Sunday 29 September 2013

Oliver at Bollington Green, Cheshire

Why I’ve not been to Bollington before, I do not know. As well as boasting the Michelin rated Oliver, which overlooks the village green, the charming limestone town is also home to the sister restaurant of West Didsbury’s The Lime Tree and nearby Kerridge’s The Lord Clyde has just been taken over by, blogger’s favourite, chef Ernst Van Zyl. It’s no wonder they call this area the “Happy Valley”. 

What’s more, it’s less than ten miles from my house and made for a pleasant drive out; we even found time to stop for a stroll in the September sunshine and look at the boats lined up along the Macclesfiled Canal.  

What Michelin say, ‘Bright neighbourhood restaurant opposite a tiny village green, run by an enthusiastic young couple. Light lunches and an interesting evening à la carte of refined, flavoursome dishes. The breads, ice-creams and chocolates are all homemade.

The enthusiastic couple in question are chef / proprietor Scott Oliver and his, restaurant manager / girlfriend, Jaydean. (The family run restaurant is co-owned by Scott’s father.)

Scott’s skills in the kitchen are not in question. He trained under Andrew Nutter and held his first head chef job by the age of 22 (he’s still only 26). All of our food was cooked and seasoned well with hearty portions and well-balanced flavours. Front of house, Jaydean conducted a friendly, relaxed and swift service with a smile. What we ate:

Oak smoked salmon & horseradish arancini with a tomato chilli & herb relish and chive aioli – I’d have preferred the arancini to have had a little more moisture inside but the flavours all came through well, given a kick with a potent balsamic reduction.

Hazelnut Buttered Chicken Liver Parfait with fruit ‘n’ nut loaf slices and a pear & currant compote – the hazelnut butter on top of the parfait was a nice touch that complemented the nuts in the fruity toasts.  

Roasted Loin of Cheshire Pork with all the trimmings: Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, “proper” gravy and roasted veg (squash, parsnip carrot, celeriac & garlic) – it was all very good but the crackling really took it up to the next level.

Pan Baked Fillet of Atlantic Cod with cauliflower cheese beignets, sautéed snow peas with a pea & shallot dressing – a beautifully cooked, succulent piece of fish with silky smooth cauliflower cheese beignets.

I also ordered a side of Extra Roasties and some delightfully chunky Truffle Chips – the portions were substantial and having previously eyed up the dessert menu, as good as they were, I was  beaten by the extra roasties… I did manage to polish off the chips thought that had been coated in a heady mix of truffle oil and powdered cep.

Tonka Bean Infused Crème Brûlée with white chocolate krispies and dried raspberries – this was my wife’s choice and I didn’t see (let alone taste) much of it! You could say it went down well.

Lemon & Almond Frangipane Sponge with a lemon & vanilla posset with lemon gel – I do like a lemon dessert when the chef is not afraid to allow the sharpness of the lemons to sing… they certainly warbled in the fantastically flavoured lemon gel; the flavour of the posset was spot on too. 

I rarely mention prices on my blog but this was such great value, it would be unfair not to: starters all £4.95, mains £9.95 and desserts £3.95. Not only was it excellent value, we enjoyed a lovely meal in a quality family, owned and run local restaurant, set in a charming location… what’s not to love? We’ll be back! 

Saturday 28 September 2013

Simon Rogan’s Mr Cooper’s House & Garden, The Midland Hotel

After only my third visit (including the launch party), Simon Rogan’s Mr Cooper’s House & Garden is already becoming one of my favourite places to eat and drink in Manchester.

I have now tasted all the starters on the current menu and am working my way through the mains and desserts.  Everything I have tried so far has been not only cooked to a high standard but inventive also – for someone who eats out regularly, it’s so refreshing to be presented with a choice that is a little break from the norm.

Any dishes that I have questioned on paper have delivered on the plate and palate. On out last visit, we sat in Mr Cooper’s study… (here), on this occasion we took at seat in the (indoor) “garden” before retreating to the library for drinks. On both visits, the service has been exceptional - it’s early days, so of course the staff are all freshly trained and are keen to impress; and so they have.

Parmesan patties, mushroom ketchup & baby leaves – these little fellas may look like a bit of a gimmick but they certainly pack a flavourful punch, mainly thanks to the rich mushroom ketchup.

Deep fried prawns, mango & chorizo marmalade ­– another dish that delivers big bold flavours with the joyous chorizo marmalade and the perfect amount of tropical mango coulis; wonderful textures too.

Grilled figs, ham, rocket & spicy popcorn – a quality dish with beautiful figs and excellent ham and gentle spicing from the popcorn, peppery rocket and balsamic dressing,

Chipotle polenta, hot smoked salmon, leeks & parsley coulis – at the risk of becoming repetitive, this was another bold flavoured dish: the salmon was heavily smoked, which complemented the smoky chipotles in the polenta. The surprise element was the roasted slice of ‘tamarillo’ (a slightly bitter plum / tomato cross) – a fab ingredient that I’ve only had twice before (in a sorbet at Pierre Gagnaire & in a drink at HKK).

Cumbrian rib steak, truffle pudding & purple potato latkes – quite simply one of the best mains being served anywhere in Manchester at the moment; as I said in the previous post… ‘stunning’.

Sides: fab Chips (bordering on ‘shoestring’ style) and a top notch Cauliflower cheese.

Cheese terrine, golden raisins, nut & fruit bread – served with delectable, plump aquavit soaked golden raisins, this was a deceptively simple cheese course made from a, no doubt, fancy technique that I will simplify as making a cheese fondue, dropping cubes of cheeses into it and allowing it to cool and set. 

Turkish delight syllabub & honey flapjacks – my wife hates Turkish Delight so I ordered this so that I didn't have to share; unfortunately, the dish was that good she is now a convert and polished most of it off… typical!

I’ll be back soon to try the rest of the mains and desserts… see you there! 

Sunday 22 September 2013

Manchester House, Aiden Byrne

Before I start my waffle: Please be aware that I visited Manchester House on their first busy Saturday night, having only been open to the public for a couple of days. It is perhaps unfair to post this early on but I do so in the hope that any 'negative' comments will be taken on board and as time goes on Manchester House will firmly establish itself as not only one of the best restaurants in the city but also in the UK. In my opinion, the first of these is already true and the potential is certainly there for the latter.  

When I was growing up, Coronation Street’s resident businessman and ‘fat cat’ was a character called Mike Baldwin. Among other things, through one of his companies, Underworld, he sold “knickers”.

In ‘real life’ Manchester today, businessman and hospitality industry ‘fat cat’, Tim Bacon and his company, Living Ventures’ enterprises have often* been described as being “all fur coat and no knickers” (*a phrase used by me about Australasia and in the comments section of Marina O’Loughlin’s recent review of Artisan.)

What Living Ventures have clearly been in need of is a ‘showpiece’ restaurant that has knickers – one where the food can be regarded as highly as the swish finish. With Mike Baldwin retired (and fictional), Mr. Bacon turned to Chef Aiden Byrne to provide him with the required “Reg Grundy’s”, and, hopefully, a Michelin star at Manchester House.

With a fit out costing in excess of £3 million, the décor and atmos in both the welcoming lounge and bar and the restaurant is without doubt sleek, slick and buzzing. But what I really wanted to find out is, would the food be akin to the quality of a pair of silky La Perla panties, or more your Primark pants? 

Before we do, a note on service.

I imagine people will take this in one of three ways – some will consider it overbearing; others will lap it up as the height of sophistication or, like us, as all a little bemusing, unnecessarily showy and a tad obsequious. 

Initially, we were greeted by three friendly doorman (the first time I’ve known this at any ‘high end’ restaurant anywhere in the world). In the foyer, we also met the first of an army of ‘hosts’, one of whom joined us in the lift so as to press the button to the twelfth floor; engage us in idle chit chat about the speed of and reliability of lifts and to tell us to turn left – here she departed and tagged in the greeting party of three more smiling hosts.  

One led us to our seat, where apparently we would be served “free canapés”. Here we were introduced to our waitress.

The cocktail menu arrived – this we did find overwhelming. Each classic cocktail being given its own page complete with a detailed history of the drink… all interesting stuff, but having just driven into town, parked some way away and successfully negotiated the salvo of eager hosts we just wanted a drink not the complete history of cocktails. We gave up reading it and just ordered a couple of Goose & Tonics. 

The drinks took some fifteen minutes to arrive. Long enough to take in the impressive views of the city and to be asked twice more if we would like a drink… yes we would. The free canapés arrived. They tasted good but the sticky surface of the beetroot and foie gras meringue and tuile left our hands all gooey.

Eventually the drinks arrived too (in gorgeous quality glassware) and were drunk. Then, when we finally were in need of a host or waitress… there was none to be found and we sat with empty glasses until it was time for our eight o’clock reservation. We had been there close to an hour.

Later on, my wife’s bottle of wine sat teasingly on the bar for a good five minutes and I ordered a tonic before the pork that only arrived after the dessert when I requested one again. It’s early days of course but the bar service especially is going to need to be on greater form.

Finally, the food.

Smoked bacon & onion brioche – after positive tweets from those that went to the press / bloggers lunch, I was looking forward to this one. The bacon and onion brioche at The Ledbury (here) is possibly one of the tastiest breads I’ve ever eaten but this sadly disappointed. I did love the pea butter but I found the texture too ‘cakey’ and the bacon not intense enough for my taste. The ‘clever’ pea juice made with fancy bits of kitchen kit was insipid and watery… it’s now I expect the water in tinned peas to taste. 

At this point, I was beginning to think about that mink and lack of smalls… but then things took a turn for the better.

Chilled broad bean soup – a subtle broad bean soup, given a hearty zing with goat’s cheese. A delightfully fresh tasting dish, served in a striking bowl with holes (which made an appearance later).

Razor clam, squid & pepper – another beautifully presented dish with clear vibrant flavours.

Braised snails, potato & parsley – this dish was the first one where I thought ‘Wow! This place really could win a Michelin star!” World class… a definite equal to the Fat Duck’s snail porridge (here). The pickled and braised snails were so plump and succulent enrobed in the potato foam and their perfect partner in parsley.

Pigeon, foie gras, palm sugar, cherries & pistachio – a classic flavour combination refined to exemplary standards… each component was cooked to perfection and showcased modern kitchen techniques and humour. This dish is already proving to be a firm favourite with many who have been lucky enough to taste it.

Prawn cocktail – I love passion fruit but often find it overpowers so I was a little concerned this would be a ‘style over substance’ dish, conceived more for the brief on Adien’s last winning appearance on the Great British Menu. These fears were unfounded; it did have that sharp tropical taste but I felt it balanced well and I particularly enjoyed the contrast in temperatures between the warm prawns and icy orb.

Beetroot fed oyster & oxtail – I saw Aiden demonstrate this dish at the recent Liverpool Food & Drink Festival and have a great photo of the billowing sea scented liquid nitrogen on my post (here). Sadly, on the night, mine failed to flourish and my wife’s only managed the weakest of wisps. Fortunately, this did not effect the flavour. I found the oxtail consommé to be exemplary and the oysters that are fed for two weeks on beetroot infused liquid are a stroke of genius.

This is served with an oxtail ‘doughnut’ with a samphire and oyster emulsion with a beetroot crumb – dreamily good.

Potato & artichoke salad with truffle – on paper this sounded right up my alley. Each component was good but it did not all pull together for me… especially the ‘faux truffle’ – an iced Parmesan mouse with powdered cep. It wasn’t a bad dish but it had a few tough acts to follow and therefore did not wow; I’d suggest placing it before the snails on the menu.

Turbot, morteaux & choucroute – this dish did wow! Another world class plate of food. The ‘king of fish’ had been wrapped in cabbage leaf and salted for some time, which imparted flavour and gave it the most delightful meaty texture. I love anything fermented (or pickled) and the choucroute (a French version of sauerkraut) complete with dinky pickled cockles gave a delightful sour kick, buoyed by the sea vegetables smoky Mortueau sausage.

Pork cutlet with pineapple, rose & rosemary – this dish was not to my taste (or my wife’s) we both found the rose element overpowering, like potpourri. The pork too, was ‘lost’ amidst what I found to be an excess of pineapple.

Szechuan, lychee & rose – I suggest this dish is renamed ‘Lychee, rose & Szechuan’. It was a lovely dish and the perfect palate cleansing ‘pre-dessert’ but by listing ‘Szechuan’ first, I expected it to take a more prominent role.

Manchester tart – I am ashamed to say that despite living in Manchester for over twelve years, I have as yet eaten a traditional Manchester tart. This one may not win over purists but I found it to be a fabulous thing… a stunning synergy of flavours and textures.

Coffee & macarons – I adore macarons and cannot think of a better way to end a meal than a selection of macarons and a ristretto to end a meal. On a personal note, may I suggest two of each flavour (I’m ok with less flavours) to save arguments? Eating half a macaron does not offer the same satisfaction, as it's the initial bite that I particularly enjoy.

So, do Living Ventures finally have a restaurant with knickers to accompany their fur coats? To my mind yes… Aiden Byrne has given them, and Manchester a pair of Underworld’s finest. I’m sure even the discerning and flashy Mike Baldwin would love Manchester House, thanks to the food and general buzz, so do I. For food this good, I can live with the farcical parade of hosts. 

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