Monday, 5 August 2013

'Dig The City' at Harvey Nics with Aumbry & Lisa Allen

Dubbed “Cottonopolis”, Manchester is famed for being the world’s first industrialised city. At its heart the grand trading halls, ‘The Corn & Produce Exchange’ (now The Triangle) and ‘The Royal Exchange’ helped Manchester become, for a time, “greatest industrial city in the world”.

Once infamous for its smog, grime and general greyness, a little bit of greenery in the city centre is always welcomed. ‘Dig The City’, Manchester’s ‘urban gardening festival’, has temporarily turned the largely concrete expanse of Exchange Square, leading to St. Anne’s Square and King Street into a verdant urban oasis (complete with beer tents!)

For an added burst of colour, artist Jason Hackenwerth has created three of his extraordinary triffid-like “Dance of the Honey Bee” sculptures.

As part of the goings-on, Harvey Nics teamed up with Mary-Ellen McTague of Aumbry and Lisa Allen, Head Chef of the Michelin starred Northcote. For those that are not aware of Lisa or Mary-Ellen’s cooking, check out my posts of Northcote and Aumbry.

Together they created a 4-course menu for Dig the City, served in Harvey Nichols’ Second Floor Restaurant overlooking the festival’s 'Show Gardens'. To fit with the theme and their style of cooking, the menu featured foraged foods, local produce and pretty (edible) flowers.

Mary-Ellen’s Amuse: Fresh Goats Milk Curd with pickled cucumber, cornflowers, rocket flower and summer purslane – a beautiful, delicate dish and a perfect start of the evening’s special menu.

Lisa’s Starter: Wheat Fed Goosnargh Guinea Fowl with parfait cigar, celeriac and organic garden salad – the dish of the night for me. The parfait in the Feuilles de brick pastry cigar was immense, along with the freshness of the salad ingredients and acidity from tiny cubes of crunchy apple and dinky pickled shimeji.

Mary-Ellen’s Main: 33 Day Aged Longhorn Beef with oyster, mustard leaf, nasturtium and pickled cockles – another fabulous plate of food, was a close contender for dish of the night with Lisa’s starter. Nasturtiums are perhaps one of the easiest to grow, tasty, pretty and plentiful edible flowers – in the spirit of the festival, I urge you to plant some in your garden, window box or balcony and get using them in your salads. 

Lisa’s Dessert: English Strawberry with meringue, Kendal mint cake and ‘water ice’ – a delightful end to the meal; mint and strawberry are superbly summery combination, but the presentation did remind me of a Christmassy snow scene with the slushy ice, bright reds and green and little meringue snowmen.

At the end of the meal, Lisa and Mary-Ellen emerged from the kitchen to a rapturous applause and answered questions about their careers, food philosophy and use of such wonderful produce, such as foraged ingredients and flowers. 

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