Thursday, 30 August 2012

Gaucho Grill, Manchester


A few years back if you had asked someone where you could get the best steak in Manchester the answer was simple – 'Gaucho' or 'Grill on the Alley' (see here).


Of of the two, Gaucho was always my preferred choice (my wife was less keen) – I liked the venue, the lighting, the music and most of all the whole cow vibe… oh yes, I liked the steaks too!


I say ‘liked’ because for some reason* I am unable to recall I have not been back for a couple of years (it seems unlikely but perhaps my wife started to get her own way?).

*One reason could be the availability of other decent steaks in the city at places such as:  Smoak (here), SoLita (here) and Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote (here).


Of course, Gaucho is not all about the steaks – their menu now features a good selection of ceviche dishes. I selected the Mackerel Ceviche with mango and passion fruit sauce, which ‘on paper’ seemed right up my alley.


It was  colourful, fresh and vibrant looking but lacked a little in execution to my mind - I found much of the mackerel a little ‘mushy’, the fried plantain slice dry and unpalatable and I failed to taste the passion fruit.

Re. the steaks: I’ve recently heard people knocking Gaucho’s steaks for being a) over priced and b) Argentinian*. Personally, I found my Tira De Ancho steak to be good value for 500g of high quality, well cooked and flavoursome beef.


The Tira De Ancho is ‘spiral cut’ rib-eye, basically translating as a strip of rib-eye. As requested, mine had been ‘medium rare’ - slow grilling allows the marbling of this particular cut to melt and permeate the steak with flavour. The flavours were then further enhanced with their version of a chimichurri sauce.

The classic chimichurri consists of oil, parsley, oregano, vinegar and chilli. Gaucho’s much sweeter version seemed to omit the bitter oregano and use the sweeter coriander in its place; with further sweetness from the addition of onion and sherry vinegar the result was a bit too, err… sweet.

(*As for being Argentinian: of course, I agree with buying British and local and all that but no one knocks Italian restaurants for importing Italian goods – It tasted good, so what if the Falkland’s want it back.)


The Grilled Asparagus was little dry and withered at the ‘stalk end’ and came with Gaucho’s gremolata – another ‘fiddling with’ of a classic recipe: I liked the addition of capers - good but, ‘not as we know it, Jim.’


The chips were ‘finished with deep fried thyme’ but I would appreciate it if they had been more generous with the thyme. I found the béarnaise sauce quite poor – one of the blandest versions I’ve had in a while.


I wasn’t going to have a dessert but my friendly server suggested the Apple Pancake - describing how it was topped with popcorn and cinnamon and cooked it in hot sticky caramel… I was sold! Well done waiter!

Although, if he ever considers a change of career, I’d recommend becoming a used car salesman – it looked that part, but at £8.50 I was disappointed in what I found was a stodgy, barely warm pancake (thankfully only one); stale popcorn; average ice-cream with only the faintest hint of cinnamon.

For me, Gaucho’s saving graces remain the venue, the lighting, the music and most of all the whole cow vibe… oh yes, I still like the steaks too!





Gaucho Grill on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Grill on the Alley, Manchester


Grill on the Alley is the original city centre Black House Grill (it has since been joined by the Grill on New York Street). I have previously blogged about the Grill on the (Alderley) Edge (see here).


The Marinated Olives in “Olive Oil” were a little disappointing in a very oily, salty brine – not the quality I would expect from a venue of Grill on the Alley’s standard, price range and reputation.


Before my starter I couldn’t resist a trio of Rock Oysters (served simply with a mignonette sauce, lemon and Tabasco) that pleasingly came freed from the muscle, with no fragments of shell - but sadly they had lost most of their ‘juice’.


As my ‘official’ starter, I selected the Double Baked Cheese Soufflé, which was good - a light airy texture, a good strong cheese flavour and well presented with cresses and mushrooms.


For the main course, I went for the Flattened Rump with Portobello Mushrooms and Balsamic Cipollini Onions – a competitively priced rump that provided good value for money. The accompanying home cut chips were very good.


The Béarnaise came priced at £2.00 and the Asparagus with Béarnaise £4.75; I opted for the latter, which meant I basically got one of my 5-a-day for £2.75 – result! But sadly the Béarnaise was a little bland for my taste – I like a little more sharpness and for the herbs have a greater impact. The Watermelon juice made a refreshing change.


I found the service to be swift, friendly and efficient - suitably pitched for a lunchtime crowd mainly consisting of suited businessmen and women.  





Grill on the Alley on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Brew Dog & Trof at The Deaf Institute, Manchester


The Deaf Institute café, bar and music hall on Grosvenor Road in Manchester is part of the group that owns the popular Trofs, Salutation Hotel & Pub and Gorilla (see here).  

With their BrewDog Manchester venue now open on Peter St, the Aberdeenshire-based BrewDog brewery was first started in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie and has quickly established itself as the ‘naughty boy of British brewing’.


Recently, Trof and BrewDog teamed up for a ‘beer tasting and food-matching Banquet in the Deaf Institute’s Victorian Music Hall’ and I was invited along to take some photographs, drink some beer, eat some food and generally share with you what it was all about.
For £20, the ticket included tasters of some of BrewDog's award-winning beers, ales, porters and lagers such as 5am, Punk IPA, Hardcore, Dogma and Lost Dog and some of their rarities too. ‘A real journey through the ever expanding universe of craft beer’ - all paired with specially selected dishes!

On their own website proclaims BrewDog claim they are, “a post Punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery.’
As I continue to grow into an ever cantankerous #GrumpyOldMan, I do find the whole sweary attitude a little tired and passé – more archaic than anarchic… however, I do in general, approve of the ‘craft beer ethos’ and ‘movement’.

One thing that bothered me recently about the London 2012 Olympics was the choice of sponsors – particularly the fact that as ‘Britain's leading brewer’ Heineken UK were granted “sole pouring rights”.


There are some 28 breweries listed on London Brewer’s Alliance website (here) and along with Britain’s largest ‘microbrewery’ BrewDog, there are numerous other ‘independents’ producing beers worthy of the great games that we put on and our Team GB athletes.

These independents include such breweries as: Dark Star, Fyne Ales, Steel City, Ilkley, Gadds’ Ramsgate Brewery and of course Manchester’s own Marble Beers - most beer connoisseurs (which I am not) would tell you that any of the companies mentioned produce tastier drinks than the “leading* brewery” Heineken UK (*using a definition that also sees Vauxhall Motors leading over Rolls Royce and Top Shop over Paul Smith or Vivienne Westwood.)

I know a counter argument would be that ‘leading’ does not mean best and that The Fat Duck or L’Enclume as Britain’s ‘best restaurants’ could logistically not have provided the same type of service needed at the Olympics that McDonald’s could offer.


I have mentioned ‘ethos’, BrewDog publish their philosophy in their ‘Manifesto for the craft beer revolution’ – point one states:Our beers are the epitome of pure punk. We brew uncompromising, bold and irreverent beer, beer with a soul and a purpose. Our approach has the same contempt of the mass beer market that the old-school punks had for pop-culture. BrewDog is a modern day rebellion against faceless corporate bureaucracy and the bland, soulless beer they industrially produce.

This ‘contempt for the mass beer market’ sees their beers now stocked in Sainsbury’s, Tesco and, every punks favourite, Waitrose… where you can also buy Country Life Butter as advertised by national treasure, John Joseph Lydon aka Johnny Rotton… “the epitome of pure punk”.

As mentioned, a beer connoisseur I am not but I do appreciate that underneath this ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric, BrewDog aim to (and have achieved) bring full flavoured, stimulating and different beers to a wider market. I may not be a regular beer drinker but as a ‘foodist’ the more interesting flavour profiles do interest me.

The first beer we tasted was the 5 A.M. SAINT, paired with Mini Yorkshire puddings, pork and sage chipolatas, tomato, apple and 5 A.M. chutney – Josie, our excellent host for the evening (from BrewDog) explained the technical stuff relating to production which included the addition of five different varieties of ‘hops’, five varieties of ‘malts’ with a twist of ‘loads of late hops and bucket-loads of dry hops’.


What all this translated as was a fresh, energetic beer with a smooth finish. Its subtle herbal notes and the fruity flavours of orange peel went really well with the sage in the sausages and the sweetness of the chutney.

The second offering was their number one seller, PUNK IPA with Punk IPA battered haddock goujons with homemade tartare sauce – the fish and its golden beer batter were excellent; billed as a return to IPA’s of our past colonial days, the tropical fruity flavours of papaya and mango contrasted well and cut through the richness of the tartare.


Up next, a Mature cheddar cheese rarebit matched with HARDCORE IPA – the Hardcore features twice the amount of hops than Punk and if then intensely ‘dry hopped’ post fermentation (a time consuming technique that apparently adds aroma and flavour at a stage when most beers are finished) – this ale certainly had a lot of intense flavours, including rich caramelly, toffee notes, with grapefruit and hibiscus flowers. With a subtle sweetness from the alcohol (9.2%) but an overall bitterness this refreshed the palate and cut through the richness of the melted cheese and would be a good match for full on flavours and spice.


For our next beer our host announced that we would be ‘going over to the darkside’ with DOGMA paired alongside Individual Lancashire cheese hot pots with homemade pickled Dogma cabbage. This turned out to be my favourite – it uses a low amount of hops compared to most BrewDog brews (just two) but ten different types of malts and heather infused honey: smoky, rich and a with hit of licorice, it really helped to pick out the flavours of the lamb and intensify the Lancashire cheese. I’d like to taste it with other red meats or game.


Next up, ALICE PORTER, paired with a blue, Brie and goat’s cheese and Alice Porter chutneys. Flavour wise, this drink took it down a notch to the previous couple of offerings – a subtle hint of vanilla sweetness with blueberry and plum notes complemented the mild cheeses. The rhubarb in the chutney also made with the Alice Porter was excellent.


The last (and possibly best) food pairing of the evening saw a rich, moist and indulgent Chocolate brownie matched with LOST DOG an imperial porter with notes of red berries created in collaboration with the award-winning Lost Abbey brewery from California. During production they went ‘hell for leather’ with amount of malts added; rum soaked raisins and rum casks also helped to created sweet, fruity, chocolaty, coffee notes reminiscent of fruit cake.


After the food had been served, a few people left but the hardcore stuck around to taste a couple of BrewDogs ‘rarities’ – the first of these being the PARADOX JURA: a robust Imperial Stout with 15% ABV – having been aged for nine months in Jura whiskey casks, there are obvious peaty, smoky, whiskey tasting notes and aromas with hints of chocolate, miso and molasses. (I want to try this with one of my wife’s rhubarb crumbles because she uses Billington's natural molasses unrefined cane sugar in the recipe.)


It was at this point that I overheard a comment that you don’t oft hear in wine drinking circles, the phrase, "That's got a fu*king good nose!" Based on the folk I met at The Deaf Institute, I’ve decided that I like the craft beer crowd – they seemed knowledgeable and interested to learn more (whereas, I’ve found that ‘wine snobs’ often come across as poncey, boring as though they think they know everything).

This wasn’t an evening about for ‘booze monsters’ aiming to see how much they could pour down their necks. It was quality not quantity… something I think the final beer of the night showed:

The final drink of the night was the one time* ‘Strongest Beer in the World’ TACTICAL NUCLEAR PENGUIN – at 32% ABV we were served what could be described as a ‘wee dram’ that resemble a spirit or sherry in aroma and appearance. The beer had apparently been double barrel aged for 14 months, maturing in Whiskey casks and then three times frozen to create the high alcohol content (and provide the name) – it was really interesting to try. BrewDog state the beer is about ‘pushing the boundaries’ and ‘ taking innovation in beer to a whole new level'.


Most certainly taking things to a new level, is the current ‘Strongest Beer in the World’ a 57.5% ABV behemoth made by a German brewery. This came about due to BrewDog’s ‘subtly named’ 41% ABV ‘SINK THE BISMARCK’ response to the beer that took the ‘title’ from the Tactical Nuclear Penguin… the ball is in now BrewDog’s court.

A good night was had by all! Service and hospitality throughout the evening from the Deaf Institute and BrewDog staff was excellent. As far as I am aware, this event was a ‘one off’ although who knows, it seemed a success and they may decide to repeat it! In the meantime, I suggest a pub crawl around visiting Trof, the Deaf Institute, BrewDog Manchester and any other venues you see along the way that offer these interesting and full flavoured tipples – but remember: drink responsibly ;-)





The Deaf Institute on Urbanspoon
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