Monday 29 October 2012

The Lime Tree, West Didsbury

It’s been about ten years since I last visited The Lime Tree. Quite why it had taken me so long to return, I don’t know. The last time I was there, I enjoyed the meal and Chef-patron Patrick Hannity and his team have continued to maintain a solid and respected reputation amongst local diners.

In 2008, Hannity acquired a twenty acre small holding called Hardingland Farm which now grows and breeds produce solely for the use of the restaurant. On the farm, you will find Texal sheep, Aberdeen Angus/Limousine Cross cattle, Saddle Back pigs, free range hens, geese, and ducks and even a hive of bees.

So, long over due a return visit, I treated myself to lunch.

What they say: ‘The Lime Tree, situated on leafy Lapwing Lane in West Didsbury, has been at the top of the list for Manchester gourmets for years. Why? The outstanding food, the easy atmosphere, the ever-changing menu and the extensive wine list.’

What I ate:

Bread, olives and tapenade – a decent tapenade, decent olives and decent bread. A minor moan (a regular one of mine) relates to the use of the sickly sweet balsamic glaze used instead of vinegar and no cocktail sticks provided with the olives.

A trio of Fresh Rock Oysters – served simply with a classic mignonette sauce, lemon and Tabasco. Pleasingly freed from the muscle, with no fragments of shell but sadly they has lost most of their juice.

Seared king scallops – with sweet chilli jam and crème fraiche. I think I had seen scallops on a cooking program the night before and just fancied them but I had my doubts about the chilli jam that I thought could either overpower or be too sweet; thankfully it did neither.

My one gripe would be that I felt was too much crème fraiche served with this dish – an ordinary person would just leave some of it, I know but I am one of those people who has to eat everything on the [late even if I am not particularly enjoying it.

Pasta Puttanesca – olives, capers, chilli, tomatoes and garlic. The pasta dish was very good… I’d say, better than many specialist Italian restaurants in town. A rich, well-seasoned tomato sauce with good plump capers and chunks of olive (it perhaps needed a tad more chilli for my taste.) A little interesting fact for you: in Italy a ‘puttanesca’ is a common word for ‘a lady of the night’ as a result, in English it is sometimes referred to as Tart’s Spaghetti.

Deep fried courgettes - basil oil and parmesan. When ordering, I expected them to be battered allumette cut batons but these crisp bread crumbed roundels were a pleasant and delicious surprise.

Fat chips with sour cream – when ordering I had ummed and ahhed over whether to order chips but fearing a carb overload, what with the bread and pasta, decided against it – the waitress obviously felt I looked undernourished and kindly brought me out a small sampling for which I was very grateful; they were delicious.

Food high points: the pasta dish was very good and the chips were fab.

Food low points: the only minor nit-pick relates to the generous serving if crème fraiche with the scallop dish; that aside the menu seemed well conceived and the dishes I ate showed why The Lime Tree has been such a successful local restaurant for so long.

Décor / ambience: very much in the style of a typical local restaurant – nothing fancy but clean, comfortable, light, bright, airy and modern.

Service: I arrived as they opened for a mid-week lunch and was the only customer… service was friendly and attentive.

Verdict (Would I return?): Unquestionably… and hopefully I won’t leave it so long this time. I only realised afterwards that I didn’t order anything which would have been reared on their farm, so I’ve got a definite reason to go back.

I also heard that they are set to open / have opened a new / sister restaurant, closer to the farm called Lime Tree Bollington, which could be worth a gander. 

Sunday 21 October 2012

Italia Manchester (Preview - Part ‘Due’)

PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this post, Franco Sotgiu has severed ties with the restaurant and the chef that cooked this food has 'moved on' - the same experience can no longer be 'guaranteed'.

Earlier in the month, I brought you a preview post about Manchester’s newest (and oldest) Italian restaurant - Italia (see here). 

As the restaurant is still in its ‘soft opening’ period, part ‘Uno’ of the preview focussed mainly on the pasta dishes.

The soft opening means that they are in a transition between the former restaurant ‘Rustica’ and what will be ‘Italia’. They are fully open to the public but are still trialling menus, staff and decorating. As such, Franco invited me along once again to offer my opinions on the latest menu developments and a couple of the specials. They are set to launch officially later in the month.

On my last visit I had the Bruschetta with Gorgonzola, pears and honey and know that due to my feedback and that of others they have tweaked the type and amount of honey; this is what is great about the soft opening… knowing they can’t complete with the profile of Jamie’s Italian or the £700k refits of the likes of San Carlo, Italia are determined to get the food spot on!

Hopefully they will listen to me again when I say that as delicious as the Fresh home baked Bruschetta with Lardo di Colonnata (with tomatoes & rosemary) was, I’d like the Lardo to be cut a little thicker or melted less – the flavour was sublime but I’d like a little more texture.  

One of the specials that Franco was most keen for me to try was their Risotto Imperiale. A wonderfully indulgent dish that I haven’t stopped thinking about!

I have had sea urchin on a number of occasions, most memorably, fresh from the shell in New York’s Grant Central Station Oyster Bar; in sushi places in Singapore and at the Michelin starred Comerç 24 in Barcelona and the two-starred Joël Robuchon in London – it was therefore a real treat to get some at home here in Manchester.  

It was an even bigger treat that the urchin came served on top of a perfectly cooked risotto and accompanied by another premium ingredient… the excellent Ebéne caviar from Fine French Caviar (see here). Again, I have had this caviar before: on the dish that Aiden Byrne got 10 out of 10 for on the Great British Menu and in the Michelin starred restaurants Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor and Marc Wilkinson’s Fraiche.

Although not as famously indulgent as the urchin and caviar, Franco was keen for me to try the Spaghetti alla Bottarga. In fact, so keen was Franco to serve me this dish, the ‘national dish’ of his family’s homeland of Sardinia that he went into the kitchen himself to rustle it up (hence the dodgy presentation)!

Sometimes called ‘poor man’s caviar’ Bottarga is the salted, pressed and air-dried roe of (traditionally) tuna or mullet. I tasted some before it was grated on this the spaghetti – as expected, it was both fishy and salty but nothing special…  but when it had been grated on the hot strings of spaghetti it released a wonderful pungent aroma and deep, punchy briny flavour with a hint of bitterness. (It’s allegedly an ‘acquired’ taste but obviously one I have already acquired; perhaps I was Sardinian in a previous life?)

Stone Baked Pizza: Nduja – tomato, mozzarella, spicy Calabrian Nduja sausage and sweet red peppers. Made from all the ‘best parts’ of a pig with spices and roasted hot red peppers, the ‘nduja’ (Pronounced: “En-Do-Ya”) has a well rounded fiery heat that seems to naturally permeate but does not present too harshly.

I am relatively new to its joys, previously enjoying it in sauces and spread ‘raw’ onto warm bruschetta but this was the first time I have had it on a pizza… forget pepperoni… forget Peter Kay and his “Garlic Bread?”… I tell you, Nduja is a taste revelation… “It's the future!”

Gnocchi are an ‘ingredient’ that I love and regularly order them in Italian restaurants but the dishes they are used in often a disappointment. This Gnocchi coda di bue brasata (baked with braised oxtail and pecorino) was an exception. Definitely the best dish I have eaten at Italia on either of my visits - fabulously rich and hearty… a real winter warmer.

My wife seemed to love the Baked fennel with Parmesan and cream as much as I loved the gnocchi. Very well cooked and seasoned.

Cooked on the Inka Grill, we also shared an 8oz Sirloin with rocket, pecorino and aged balsamic – WH Frost meat and an Inka Grill… need I say more?

I’ve always been a ‘savoury person’ but I feel the desserts (fantastic Cabrelli ice creams aside), despite being an improvement on my last visit, are still the ‘weakest’ part of the menu. I don’t know how much of this stems from the fact that the pasta dishes are so strong but I’d say this is the area they need to continue to develop through out the soft opening period. I’m certain others with more of a sweet tooth will advise and they’ll soon be up to scratch – the showpiece ‘retro’ Tomorrow’s World-eqsue space age dessert gizmo still impresses!

Of course, I was given this meal without charge (although I did leave a generous tip for the new staff team) but I was under no obligation to say all these nice things… go and taste for yourself! 

Italia on Urbanspoon
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Twitter Feed