Saturday 30 March 2013

SoLita Grill NQ, Manchester

Regular readers of my blog who also follow me on Twitter will no doubt be aware that SoLita in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is one of my favourite places in the city to eat.

The great thing about SoLita is that, alongside the crowd pleasing favourites, there is always an interesting selection of specials – recent showstoppers ‘Once in a Lifetime Burger’ the ‘Breaking Bad’ ‘Apocalypse Now (And Later) or A.N.A.L’ and ‘The Life Aquatic – surf ‘n’ turf burger’.

This post contains a collection of a few dishes eaten over recent months that I haven’t yet featured on other blog posts. I typically eat there at least once a week – sometimes just for a quick snack and occasionally for a full-blown feast!

If it’s a full blown feast you want, a good place to start is with their ‘Big Manc’ Burger (top right, which, for legal reasons bears absolutely no similarities with the popular burger from a famous high street chain that also has ‘big’ in the title).

The Big Manc features two 6oz chuck steak & bone marrow patties in a brioche bun with a smoked butter and sesame glaze and Big Manc sauce. Of course, you can also trade up to the Mega Manc or, like me, the Mega Manc XL! (Pictured left).

SoLita’s menu often draws on New York / Americana influences - the best example of is the ‘Manc-Hattan’ Burger – a 6oz chuck steak & bone marrow patty served on a fresh, traditional Lancashire Oven Bottom Muffin (made locally by Robinsons Bakery) with Lancashire cheese, Panko encrusted Black Pudding, Pastrami and a sauce made with Coney Island Mustard & Lancashire Sauce.

Ribs, Wings and Things.

T ‘N’ T Wings, Deep Fried Dauphinoise, Sweet Potato Fries and Sweetcorn Hushpuppies.

Follow SoLita on Twitter @SoLiTaNQ for more pics and to keep up to date with their ever changing and ever exciting specials. 

SoLita on Urbanspoon

Friday 29 March 2013

All Star Lanes, Restaurant Bar & Grill (& Épernay Champagne Bar)

An evening that can best be described as two gutter balls and a strike.

Let’s start at the beginning - my youngest stepdaughter has recently graduated from University, qualifying as a Mental Health Nurse. To celebrate, my wife asked me to find somewhere with the stipulations that she wanted low carb and somewhere 'nice' but not too formal as we'd be meeting 'the boyfriend' for the first time (and apparently he was not a 'formal' type of guy... this was going to be interesting!)

Plans made, my wife and stepdaughter were to go into Manchester during the day to treat and pamper themselves, before going for drinks at Épernay Champagne Bar - I would meet them after work (and the ‘bf’ later join us at the Restaurant Bar & Grill).  

By the time I got to the Épernay, they had both necked a glass of Billetcart-Salmon Rosé and were polishing off a bottle of Bollinger Grande Année - but they didn't look happy.

They were perched at the top of the stairs on a small, cheap looking faux leather settee and I was inclined to agree with them when they noted that the place was a little bit grotty.

I'm not a snob... I have no problem with 'a little bit grotty' but I do despair when places do not live up to expectation. "Drink up," I said, "I've got an idea."

They downed the rest of the bottle and, despite my wife's grumblings, we made out way to the new All Star Lanes, nearby.

Wearing a Vivienne Westwood dress, a pair of Louboutin’s and having just had her hair and nails done in Harvey Nicks, there was no way my wife was was going to bowl - but when I pointed out the comfy booths and cocktail menu she started to soften.

My stepdaughter and I were keen to “get our bowl on” - it was still early (about 5ish) so we managed to get a lane. Of course, we still had the booking for Restaurant Bar & Grill so I just asked for a "look" at the menu, purely for "research, for another day".

Having looked at the menu, it seemed rude not to order a couple of bar snacks - we got our game underway and the food soon arrived… “Hello Good Times!”

We (I) ate: Scratchings & tartare dip (these were ok), Mac & cheese croquettes (which were Bob on), Fries with rosemary salt (perfectly good), Sweet potato fries (preferable to the fries) and a Hamburger with Blue cheese (top notch burger – good quality beef patty served pink).

The staff at All Star Lanes were great; the food was better than expected and the venue was cool. We will definitely be back.... “Strike!”

Onto, the Restaurant Bar & Grill - By this time, my stepdaughter had received a message from the ‘boyfriend’ to say he couldn't make it (they've since split up and we never did meet him) but we had already had a great time bowling so this didn't seem to bother her too much.

Épernay a distant memory, some good grub at the restaurant would be the icing on the cake of a fab evening. Sadly, ‘good grub’ was not what we got... at the time, feeling generous and in good spirits from the All Star experience; I described it as “decidedly average.”

Our starters included Smoked haddock with lightly spiced potatoes, poached egg & coriander; Grilled Asparagus with poached egg & hollandaise and Half Dozen Oysters with Tabasco and a mignonette sauce.

My wife and stepdaughter enjoyed their starters but my oysters were a bit sorry looking; were served without their liquor and were very gritty.

Wanting something lighter after my earlier 'snacks', for my main, I opted for the Tuna Au Poivre – ‘sashimi’ grade tuna loin, béarnaise sauce with hand cut chips which was pleasant enough.

My side of Peas, spring cabbage & bacon was simple and tasty; but my side of Sprouting Broccoli with chilli & garlic was disappointingly served stone cold.

Restaurant Bar & Grill have an Inka Grill (one of the shiny new models). I've eaten food cooked on the Inka many, many times and know that they are a fabulous piece of kit. I also know that they are quite 'forgiving' (i.e. they do not need the most highly skilled chefs to get great results.)

Bottom left: "Medium" Fillet

Previously a bit of a burger or chicken dish fiend, my stepdaughter is quite new to steak – she ordered the 28day aged Fillet (to be served ‘medium’). To ‘educate her’, I suggested my wife order the Bone-in 35day aged Ribeye (requested rare) so that they could share and compare.

My wife’s ribeye came cooked to perfection on the Inka with that unmistakable flavour that comes from being cooked over coals. Disappointingly for my stepdaughter, as this was supposed to be her celebratory meal (but fortunately for me, as I ate it!) the fillet arrived equally, if not more, rare! We would have sent it back but, being British, prefer to vote with our feet.

Our desserts were fine.

The planned parts of the evening were disappointing… but luckily it was salvaged by the unplanned trip to All Star Lanes.  

All Star Lanes on Urbanspoon The Restaurant Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday 28 March 2013

Min Min Noodle Bar, Birmingham

For the past few years I have visited the Education Show held in Birmingham’s NEC. On previous visits I’ve made do with food from the motorway services or the coffee shops within the exhibition centre. This year, I thought I’d treat myself to something better… much better! 

Having never eaten in Birmingham before my first thought was to book one of the city’s 3 Michelin starred establishments. My first choice, Purnell’s was closed for Saturday lunch but I managed to secure a late lunch at Simpsons (blog post to follow).

Wanting to check out a little of what else the city had to offer, I asked Twitter were else I should try – I received a lot of recommendations for `Loves restaurants and the city’s curry houses but in the end it was a suggestion from Manchester/Birmingham based blogging duo ‘Pretty and Tasty’ (@Prettyandtasty on twitter) that piqued my interest.

Min Min Noodle Bar, opened in June 2012 by a Vietnamese / Chinese family. Judging from online reviews and sites such as Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor (not that I usually take much heed of the latter), it has quickly built up a good reputation for serving tasty and great value food.

There are two menus - one that seemed to feature a selection of dishes commonly found as part of the majority of ‘westernised’ noodle bar repertoires.

Whereas the accompanying menu insert showcased a myriad of wonderful sounding authentic dishes such as: ‘Salt and pepper chicken gizzard’ ‘Pipa tofu’ ‘Shredded ox tripe in Thai sauce’ and ‘Jelly fish in mustard and scallion.’

Pleasingly, they also sell Bubble Tea – I fell in love with this on my travels in South East Asia and plumped for the traditional chilled, sweet milk tea with black tapioca peals or ‘boba’.  

Salt & pepper soft shell crabs - If I see soft shell crabs on a menu, it’s pretty much a given that I’m going to order them; add salt and pepper seasoning and it’s a dead cert! These were deliciously prepared – crispy, meaty with a good chilli kick.

Pork trotters with sweet vinaigrette – these were sensational! The combination of the subtly sweet sour sauce with the fatty, porky goodness and Chinese leaf was absolutely bang on! Since eating, I’ve hardly stopped thinking about how good it was… it’s got to be worth the 3 hour round trip to Birmingham alone.  

The soft noodles were also good and the portions were huge and keenly priced – this was just a flying visit but I’d definitely return to try more of the menu (and more trotters) next time I’m in town.  

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Almost Famous Presents: Lust, Luck, Liquor & Burn

On my last visit to Lust Luck Liquor & Burn I made a mockery of their Tapout Burrito 'challenge' by destroying it, whilst finishing off a few sides to boot (see here). 

Aside from stepping on the scales the next day, my one regret was not trying more of the menu. Putting this right on my return trip I (this time with a little help) polished off:

Cheese & Jalapeño Taquitos – rolled up fried tortillas stuffed with cream cheese, jalapeños, onions & peppers. Beef Taquitos – rolled up fried tortillas stuffed with spicy shredded beef with taco sauce.

Barrio Fries – grilled onions, peppers, chipotle sour cream, guacamole and hot sauce.

Lettuce Cups – crunchy iceberg lettuce cups filled with charred chicken, peanuts & toasted sunflower seeds with pineapple & mango salsa and teriyaki BBQ sauce.

Volcano Nachos – with beef chilli & fully loaded.

The nachos and the lettuce cups were the stand out dishes for me but if you're looking for "authentic Mexican cuisine", this ain't it!

If you're looking for a tasty meal in relaxed surroundings with friendly staff then you could do a lot worse.  

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