Saturday 31 May 2014

Some things I ate in Manchester during May

My stepdaughter and her girlfriend have returned from 2 years travelling and are staying with us – as a result I’ve been back cooking a little more and eating out less. So I’ve had a) less time to write the blog and b) less meals to write about.

I’ve also spent a few evenings and lunchtimes visiting Manchester’s jerk chicken joints – a post will follow once we (@SolitaNQ) have visited all the places on our list and made a couple of revisits of the best to check consistency.

That said, I did manage a little trip to London where, as a surprise for my wife, we met up with my stepson as he had arranged for 24 hour lay over from New York to Singapore – meals in James Lowe’s Lyle’s and Simon Rogan’s Fera at Claridge’s were the highlights of the trip.

Hotdogs @ Splendid Sausage Co.

Opened in the vacated Jack Spratt premises, The Splendid Sausage Co. is a place where, in their own words, ‘American hotdog culture meets the very best of British sausages’.

The owners are friendly folk who are passionate about their product – they have been getting some great reviews from a few bloggers that were invited to try their food and Man Con’s Gordo who declared their “Eggs Benedict Fries” the “best dish in Manchester”

I ate the “Chilli Dog” consisting of the “splendid sausage” (pork with herbs, pepper & garlic) topped with slow cooked house pulled chilli, three cheese mix, fried onions and jalapeños and the “Beef Sausage” topped with sauerkraut and peppers (my choice of two).

The sausages on both were better than your average ‘wiener’ but I was not convinced by the toppings on either of my choices – I liked the sauerkraut but found the peppers way too overcooked, mushy and flavourless and the chilli similarly lacking.  I’d like to go back and try some other combinations.

Brunch @ Moose Coffee

Moose Coffee, on York St, is one of those places I have walked past many times without ever stopping to have a closer look – recently I’ve seen people queuing to get in so I thought I had better see what all the fuss was about. Whilst waiting, I was given a menu that listed about 2376 different breakfast, brunch, salad and burger options.

I opted for the Sugar Ray bagel – salt beef brisket, bacon, corned beef, mustard mayo, tomato, pickles and melted Swiss cheese. It was really well put together with quality ingredients; I’ll definitely be going back to sample more of the menu and write a more detailed post.

Curry @ Mughli

Having taken my stepdaughter, her partner and my other stepdaughter to The French on the day they arrived back from their travels, we were keen to show them our new favourite Indian, Mughli – having dined on “The Curry Mile” before they went travelling, their expectations already low; these were reduced further since they had just come back from 3 months in India.

Thankfully, Mughli did not let us, or them, down as they declared it as some of the best Indian food they have eaten; they were also glad to get “proper” onion bhajis too! I’m not even going to bother listing what we ate… as I’ve said many times on twitter to people asking for recommendations… it’s all good.

Steak @ Miller & Carter

Sadly Miller & Carter was one of my more disappointing meals in May. Set in the recently impressively resorted former Lloyd’s Bank Building now housing “The Offices” on King St, the only decent thing I was served was the Lettuce Wedge in Stilton & Blue Cheese dressing.

My 14oz T-Bone Steak (£22.50), although well seasoned was a sorry looking thing (check Google images for ‘14 oz T-bone steak’ and you’ll see what I mean). The (£5.75) Lobster Tail was woefully overcooked and no bigger than my thumb and the Mac ‘n’ Cheese was as tasteless as a “selfie” at a funeral.  

Banh Mi & Summer Rolls @ Viet Shack

To my mind, the Arndale Food Market has always been a depressing place to sit down and eat. Pancho’s Burritos are good and I’ve bought the occasional ale from Boggart Brewery’s Micro Bar and cheese from The Queen Brie – but the new kids on the block @ Viet Shack are another breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction for the market.

So far I have tried their Pork Banh Mi, Avocado and Prawn Summer Rolls and Saigon Chicken & Avocado Salad - prices are so keen and the food tasted good, so I’ll soon be returning to check out their Cow Burger, Viet Dogs and other delicious sounding menu items.

Korean @ Eat Goody

Serving a short menu of simple Korean fayre and only open Mon to Fri from 12 to 4pm, Eat Goody is a great little place, popular with the student and lunchtime crowd around Oxford Road.

First, I ordered the ‘Lunchtime Deal’ of Beef Bibimbap (£3.95) plus a small dish of Pepper Chicken (£1.40 when bought with a main) – impressed by this, I thought I’d sample some more.

A ‘Light Bite’ Dumpling Curry (£3.20) was delicious; fiery Kimchi & Chicken Fried Rice also hit the spot, whilst Sweet Potato Tempura, Sweet Chilli Chicken and Pickled Chilli Radish were all decent side dishes.

Dim Sum @ Yang Sing

A return to Yang Sing for another Dim Sum Sunday – the dishes in the second series of pictures were the standouts.

Har Kau; Steamed sticky rice with Chinese chorizo, homemade wind dried meat and baby shrimp in a bamboo pot; Steamed aubergine with minced hake, dried shrimp and pork stuffing in black bean andXiao Long Bao’ Shanghai style pork dumplings

Double cooked prawn dumplings in a chicken broth; Lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice with shredded duck pork and shiitake mushrooms; Baked char sui puffs and Honeycomb ox tripe in satay sauce.

*Mughli knew I was a blogger ahead of ordering but the rest of the disclosures remain valid. 

Friday 30 May 2014

Hakkasan - Hanway Place, London

In case you didn’t already know, Hakkasan is a ‘high end’ chain of Chinese restaurants from the aptly names Hakkasan Group – as well as a dozen Hakkasan restaurants spread across USA, China, India, London and the Middle East, they also operate Sake No Hana, Yauatcha and HKK.

Of the two London outposts, Hakkasan Mayfair (which I am yet to visit) is the newer of the two but it’s the original Hakkasan Hanway Place that I know and love. Opened in 2001 by Alan Yau (of Wagamama fame), Hakkasan Hanway Place gained a Michelin star in 2003, which it has maintained ever since.

I first visited circa 2005 and made semi regular visits over the next few years or so but have not been back since I started my blog in 2011 – one reason being that we visit London less frequently and another being that as a blogger it is good to explore and experience different places.

This visit did not go as expected. Earlier in the day, my wife and I had visited Simon Rogan’s excellent new Fera at Claridge’s. We had underestimated the length of the meal and my wife could simply not manage any more food so, rather than cancelling our Hakkasan meal at short notice, I decided to pop along on my own.

One down side being that I was unable to have the ‘Taste of Hakkasan’ menu as it can only served to a minimum of two people; another was that by choosing from the A La Carte, I’d have to be careful about what I ordered as I would eating all of each dish and not sharing.  

For example, the Vegetarian dim sum platter came with two of each: crystal dumpling, vegetable shumai, yam bean & shiitake dumpling and vegetable beancurd roll – all faultless examples of the kitchen’s Michelin starred capabilities but I wish my wife were there to have half so I could have saved room to try more dishes (and look at her beautiful face across the table, obvs!)

For the rest of the meal, I decided to order dishes that sounded reasonably light (and stuck to the cheaper end of the menu as some mains come in around £60) – soft shell crab, a lamb salad and a tofu dish.

Golden fried soft shell crab with red chilli and curry leaf – the crab itself was one of the plumpest and meatiest I have had. This dish has been on the Hakkasan menu for quite some time and it’s easy to see why – perfectly judged spices that tingle the taste buds without overshadowing the crab.

Lamb salad with spicy peanut dressing – this was the star dish for me. The spicy peanut dressing had a real kick to it that was tempered by the sweet and sour crunch of alliums, white radish and mango.  

Sichuan Mabo tofu with minced beef – made with the traditional accompaniment of minced beef (as opposed to the more common pork) this was another spicy dish, characteristic of Sichuanese cuisine. “Ma bo” translates as “pock marked old woman” and, as the story goes, is named after Mrs Chen, the wife of a Chengdu restaurateur whose face was marked with smallpox scars.

To drink I enjoyed a couple of Hakkasan’s non-alcoholic cocktails - a China Doll (tamarillo fruit, pistachio, apple & peach juice) and an Eden  (grapes, rose syrup, lychee juice and soda water) – the soft drinks are always particularly good in Hakkasan group restaurants.

I also enjoyed an Old Puer Ya Jian tea. Feeling full and wanting to get back to my wife, I decided to skip dessert.

Next time, I promise to try Hakkasan Mayfair.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

One Leicester Street, Spuntino & Ramen Sasuke

In London for one night, we finally got to stay in One Leicester Street – I had wanted to stay in the hotel when it was Fergus Henderson’s St John Hotel but it was always fully booked on the dates we were travelling. 

Now renamed One Leicester Street, the hotel and Michelin starred restaurant of the same name are part of the Unlisted Collection – a group I know well from my travels to Singapore owned by “the man with the golden touch”, Dublin born, University of Sheffield and LSE educated, Loh Lik Peng.

In Singapore we have stayed in his Wanderlust and New Majestic Hotels and eaten at a few of the restaurants he has there – most notably André with Andre Chiang (recently voted 37 on the World’s Top 50 Restaurants) and one of his many join ventures with Jason Atherton, the excellent Esquina.

Sadly, our stay did not completely live up to expectations. After some teething problems over being issued with the wrong keys (cards) and a generally incompetent receptionist, we eventually made it into the room.

My wife wasn’t too happy about the bath and basin being so open and close to the bed – bad ‘feng shui’ she said. I made a mental note to check this when booking rooms in the future. Aside from this the room was good.

It was small but that is usual for such a central London location without paying many hundreds per night. The towels, toiletries, linen and mattress were all good quality and we had a great night’s sleep. The mini bar had a small but good, quality selection.

After checking in we popped out for a stroll. One Leicester Street is bang central for much of the usual touristy things. Leicester Square is less than 100 yards away and Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, SoHo, Regent Street, Carnaby Street and Oxford Street are all just a few minutes walk away.

However, we made out way (via Gerry’s on Old Compton St to stock up on miniatures) to Great Windmill Street and Sasuke Japanese Ramen Bar.

Having only opened a month or so before, Sasuke had been given the thumbs up by The Skinny Bib, which is good enough for me.

The place is much simpler, paired down and less trendy than the nearby Bone Daddies and I quite liked it for that – you don’t have to rely on funky décor if your product is good. 

I tried the Miso Chashu, which was served piping hot with good springy noodles - I opted for the ‘marutoku’ upgrade of egg and nori topping for £1, who wouldn’t?

My main criticism was the abundance of beansprouts that seemed to outnumber even the noodles! My pal Skinny Bib (who knows much better than me) criticised their pork, citing the outside of the pork as ‘unpleasantly gelatinous’ – personally, this is what I liked about it but what do I know?

Another plus point was the serving of house roasted sesame seeds with an authentic Japanese mortar and pestle style bowl and grinding stick called ‘suribachi’ and ‘surikogi’ respectively – much more enjoyable than the more practical and common plastic ‘gomasuri ki’. Interestingly, the phrase gomasuri is also used as a phrase to describe what westerners would call a ‘suck up’ or a ‘brown noser’.

Sides of Edamame and Homemade gyōza were good but not exceptional. A glass of Shochu and a Calpico finished our order.

Later in the evening, approaching 11pm if I recall, we ended up at Spuntino – another place just around the corner from the hotel. We initially popped in for just a drink but their licence only allows them to serve alcohol to people who are eating. No problem – we ordered a couple of dishes.

Due to the hour, the intention was to avoid heavy carbs so we ordered Candied bacon and a Steak tartare. Then we spotted the Clams, linguine, pancetta & wild garlic – all dishes were good enough to make us want to return at a more reasonable hour. The staff were friendly too so Spuntino is definitely on the list for a proper visit next time we are in town. 

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