Sunday 29 December 2013

The Yard on the Edge - “An evening with Arthur Potts Dawson”

As well as being a grocery store, butchery, bakery, deli and juice bar, the Yard on the Edge (in Alderley Edge, obvs) has a craft shop, café and ‘event venue’.

Known as the ‘Back Yard’, the events space regularly hosts a diverse range of community based and creative happenings, including: exhibitions, markets, cookery classes, workshops and supper clubs.

Arthur Potts Dawson is a chef who, having initially trained with the Roux Brothers, Pierre Koffmann and Rowley Leigh, spent much of his career working for the likes of Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers as the River Café Head Chef, before going on to restyle the Petersham Nurseries Café and work as Executive Chef for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen – you may also know him from Channel 4’s ‘The People's Supermarket’.

Besides being a chef with an incredible pedigree, Arthur also happens to be the nephew of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger – it is this relationship that brought him into contact with the musically connected Pickering Family who own The Yard.

The night was billed as ‘An Evening with Arthur’ – where, as well as cooking a three course meal, the chef shared recipes, experiences and anecdotes from his 27 years of working in prestigious professional kitchens. There was an ‘Open Kitchen’ and guests were encouraged to ask questions, take photos and poke their noses in the cooking pots. Arthur was great – the type of chef that has probably forgotten more about food than I’ll ever know.

Candied Beetroot with Black Truffle Pecorino & Rocket – a wonderfully light salad using delicious golden, heritage beets that would equally be at home on a summer, autumnal or winter menu. The flecks of black winter truffle in the cheese and drizzle of balsamic adding an indulgent festive frisson.

Pheasant with Fondant Potato – sharing buttery techniques, such as tunnel boning legs for filling with a forcemeat / mousseline, Arthur served the pheasant in two ways – a stuffed leg and bacon wrapped breast. This was served with a fondant potato (one of my favourite ways of serving potatoes that is sadly rarely seen in restaurants today), greens, cauliflower and ‘proper gravy’.

Poached Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream – the pears were poached to the perfect texture and served with a deeply aromatic and flavoured poaching liquor featuring white wine, bay, black pepper, cloves and star anise. (Please note: The Roux Brother taught Arthur to never serve something on the plate that should nit be eaten but we thought the bay leaf would look good.)

Another great evening at The Yard with friendly foodies - follow @YardOnTheEdge and @ArthurPottsD for more information on future events and collaborations.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Manchester House – Aiden Byrne, Manchester

Along with Simon Rogan’s The French, Manchester House has without doubt been one of the city’s most exciting restaurant openings of 2013. It has certainly been one of the most talked about amongst foodie circles and on social media.

Much of the buzz has been stirred up thanks to owner Tim Bacon’s initial statement of Michelin starred intent – something that has been freshly played down by chef Aiden Byrne (see here).

A recent review by Jay Rayner (here), having enjoyed Aiden’s food, seemed to echo the sentiments of many Mancs who have yet to be convinced by the Living Ventures’ ‘tiresome swagger’ and ‘maddeningly overbearing’ style. 

I have visited Manchester House four times now and feel that the food, service and ‘things that Mr Rayner mentioned’ have improved each time.

During the first three visits, I felt there were quite a few inconsistencies – for example, the snails, which I raved about after my first meal were not so good on subsequent visits and the bread course that initially disappointed has since been perfected. Michelin-like consistency.

I ate the excellent value 3 course lunch menu for £27.50 (with the extended a la carte option for £15). Excellent value for quail, foie gras, truffle and partridge

Onion & Parmesan Brioche with caramelised onion butter with onion consommé and Parmesan foam – on each of my four visits this course has been ‘tweaked’. This version was the best I have had - a Parmesan foam on the onion distillation adding the seasoning and depth that I feel may have been lacking on earlier versions.

Chestnut Soup with cavolo nero oil, charred cavolo nero leaf with duck ham and grated chestnut – a new dish for me that perfectly balanced bold wintry flavours in a beautifully light and silky way.

Smoked Eel Beignet with a smoked apple purée, eel and fennel salad with a rye and fennel cracker – the batter on the beignet was gloriously light and crisp. The smoke, fennel and apple all balanced to good effect.

Braised Snails with parsley purée, potato foam and crisp topped with freeze dried parsley and ox – it’s become trendy to knock culinary foams and espumas; used well I think they have a place in exciting modern food. This one is used well. Great dish.

Set Lunch starter: Steamed Breast of Quail with savoy cabbage, smoked foie gras and quail consommé – since opening Manchester House, Aiden has added many new skills and techniques armoury but it’s his classical cooking and flavour combinations that hits the mark the most for me. Here a delightfully cooked sliver of foie and pink quail ballotine were without fault.

Set Lunch main: Butter Poached Partridge with pumpkin and truffle – another winning dish featuring a beautiful just pink breast with truffly napper and confit leg sandwiched between two potato crisps. The pumpkin purée and dice and velvety truffled mash completed the dish.

Set Lunch dessert: Sour Cherries with homemade goats curd, spiced cake, lemon, basil and black pepper – in the past, I have found the desserts to be strong at Manchester House; I loved the spiced cake but this one lacked a little sharpness for me… a dusting of freeze dried sour cherry or more prominent lemon would have balanced the dish better in my opinion.

Despite its vocal knockers, Manchester House is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in the city. We are lucky to have a chef of Aiden’s calibre cooking here. If it continues to get better and better it will be exciting to see what 2014 will bring.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

SoLiTa – “Christmas Burger”

Disclaimer: As always, this is not a review - it's just a write up of my experience. Even so, It's only fair to say that I ate this food as the guest of Franco who was feeling in a festive mood. In exchange for the feast, Franco got the pleasure of my company, feedback on the dishes and new menu ideas but no promise to say anything nice. 

Last year is started my post about Manchester Christmas Markets by saying that each year there are three things that tell me Christmas is on its way: the Coca-Cola ‘Holidays are coming!’ advert; hearing Fairytale Of New York on the radio and the opening of Manchester’s Christmas Markets… one thing that I’m sure is set to be added to that list is the arrival of SoLiTa’s “Christmas Burger”.

This year, (mainly on Twitter) I have seen a shift in negativity towards the Christmas Markets, of which the Mancs were once proud – although bigger than ever, the general consensus does not necessarily rate them as ‘better’ – the food and drink offerings especially have been heavily criticised as being overpriced and poor quality.

Also, restaurants have ‘complained’ of a drop in customers – a sad state of affairs at a time of year when more people than ever visit the city’s streets. The thought being ‘we’ should be supporting local businesses as opposed to lining the pockets of visiting traders.

As if a bright star was shining overhead, one fashionably ‘Inn’ place that still seems to be attracting the wise amongst us is SoLiTa where their very own pantomime dame, Franco (and his elves) continue to roll out an interesting succession of specials to support the main cast.

Whilst much of SoLiTa’s food may be bad for your health (See how I resisted the ‘Elf pun?), I’ve never been one to care about the naughty list – at the top of which is undoubtedly their towering burgers:

SoLiTa’s, as yet unnamed, “Christmas Burger” features their signature 6oz chuck steak & bone marrow patty, topped with buttermilk fried turkey and all the trimmings – namely: cranberry & port sauce, panko fried stuffing, sprouts tops and festive mayo topped with, the crowing glory… a candied pig in blanket!

Although I found the sauce a little too sweet for my taste, this is still one of SoLiTa’s finest creations. Super Christmassy and has kick started my festive festivities! The candied pig in blanket was a stroke of genius… they may be making an appearance in the Hoss household on Christmas day.

As well as the burger I was keen to try some of the new ‘Wing’ section on the menu. I ‘sampled’ the BMW (Bacon, Maple, Wing), Kiev (Garlic butter Parsley), Bourbon (Woodford Reserve sauce) and Sticky Lime (Louisiana Hot Sauce with fresh lime dressing) flavours. 

I generally preferred the milder end of the menu with the sweet sticky maple and classic chicken Kiev combinations but the Sticky Lime ribs were also very pleasant. I felt the Bourbon ones could have done with a thicker sauce and more of it (this was fed back to the kitchen).

We also ate the Loaded Baked Potato Soup with cheese and crispy bacon pieces, which was a great winter warmer (once the seasoning had been adjusted at the table).

And the SoLiTa Sampler of Mac n Cheese Balls, Jalapeño Poppers, Buttermilk Popcorn Shrimp, BBQ Wings, Beer Battered Onion Rings – it may all ‘look a little Iceland’ (aka beige) but I do love the mac n cheese balls and the jalapeño poppers. The shrimp were particularly moreish too. 

The best thing about this food? You do not have to wait until 25th December to enjoy it!

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