Thursday, May 30, 2013

Albert Square Chop House

We've lived in Manchester for a few years now and one of the first pubs we randomly stumbled in to was Mr Thomas' Chop House.  It must have been something to do with the constant flow of gravy and roast meat smells they pump out in to the street.  We always really liked popping in to what surely must be one of the thinnest bar areas in Manchester to grab a beer but despite recommendations and said intoxicating fragrance we never got round to trying the food.  Skip forward a few years and Albert Square Chop House pops up and catches our eye but not our nose.  The place looked absolutely lovely from the street as you can see the hubbub of the upstairs bar as well as what appeared to be a cosy basement dining area.  Sadly they were keeping all of their food whiffs to themselves.  But it was on the list.  The venerable Pay Day Steak Day list.  Therefore we waited until our group decided to pay them a visit on whichever fateful pay day was chosen. Luckily the tension was broken when Manchester Confidential invited us to try their new Spring menu out.  It was an easy decision although we would not be partaking in steak as we would be returning for that pleasure.

Albert Square Chop House is a British restaurant.  Thinking about it I should probably rephrase that.  Albert Square Chop House is a BRITISH restaurant.  There is no doubt about this, the menu from top to bottom is British (and where possible of the North West local variety).  Now I know there are people out there that might not think Britain could muster a decent menu from its own dishes and I must admit that I've been to 'English' restaurants that have roped in the mongrel, adopted 'English' dishes that are liberally borrowed from the French to fill their menu as well as chucking in a Tikka Masala for good luck.  That said, much like The Wig & Pen this place has got a strong idea and a passion to deliver that idea.

The location and building are a great start.  What a spot right on Albert Square with some grand steps and an elegant arch framing the entrance to the restaurant.  It is very nice to arrive in to the upstairs bar as straight away you are hit with the vibrant atmosphere.  We had just a moment to have a quick shufty at the cracking bar area (frill but no frills if that makes sense?) where everybody looked like they were having a great time.  After that moment a lovely lady greeted us and whisked us down to the lower dining area.  Call me weird but I find eating sub ground level quite relaxing.  Just re-read that, it is weird isn't it.  Anyway they have a highly visible kitchen which I always enjoy as well as a bunch of hefty booths.  The most eye catching element of the decor are the many photos of celebrity Mancunians which line the walls.  Don't forget this is a BRITISH restaurant.  They were great photos and a great bit of conversation is to be had identifying the rows of Mancs.

At this point I should say that absolutely bloody everybody we encountered over the night gave us the warmest welcome from the door host to the waiter to the sommelier (who we will return to later on).  As always you would expect this when you are invited to a restaurant but we kept our beedy eyes locked on every member of staff throughout the meal looking for a crack in their loveliness, perhaps they would carelessly poor boiling hot gravy over an elderly ladies face without an apology or perhaps kick a chair from underneath a sickly child's attempt to be seated with an arrogant sneer.  They did neither of these things, there were no cracks, the service elsewhere looked just as good as ours.  One of my favourite waiter traits is that ability to turn up just at the right moment, some people might call these people lucky but I do not believe that, it's all about anticipation and awareness of your tables and our gentlemen was bang on every time.

Knowing that I would be heading in to the main course for a good slab of meat I thought I would go for a light starter of celery soup with blue cheese and nettle dumplings.  That wasn't the only reason though, the secondary more evil reason was that we were having matched wines with each course and I was really interested in what would be paired for this tough match.  Sorry Mr Sommelier. The soup itself was really nice, good consistency with a rich flavour but not heavy at all.  It was a hearty little dish that suits Manchester's up and down Spring weather quite well, it certainly made me think that I should consider the soup as a starter more often.  I also forgot that it included the dumplings so they were a great surprise when I got to the bottom, very subtle flavours and also very light.  Mr Sommelier came through and his wine match was bang on.

Jules went for the salmon which came accompanied by a herb mayo and pickled baby artichokes.  This was an extremely light starter with simple, fresh flavours bordering more on a Summer vibe than Spring but hey we all wish it was Summer don't we?  It was also exceedingly pretty.  At the same time fresh bread rolls were arriving at the table and they were an absolute delight, it must have been only moments from oven to table as they were piping hot and super soft.  Some people might think that they are a little on the small side but fret not gluttons there is a steady stream of them if required.  Oh and Mr Sommelier gave Jules the perfect wine to accompany it again.

For the main I felt I had to go for the Spring lamb seen as though we were here to try the Spring menu surely I had to pick the item that had Spring in the name.  As soon as I saw it I knew it was perfectly cooked.  This was far and away one of the best lamb dishes I have ever eaten, a dish that is so easily destroyed by a pub chef knocking it out on a late Sunday afternoon had been treated with such care it was amazing.  Sometimes people say that they have eaten meat that is melt in the mouth and I guess most of us must think "meat is a protein made of animal flesh, I'm sure it wouldn't melt at mouth temperature".  This lamb was melt in the mouth, science be damned.  Sides were also bang on, rich and creamy potato, the right volume of flavoursome jus, a smattering of greens, an addictive roast garlic clove which had to be carefully rationed.  Here comes Mr Sommelier again with another brilliant pairing, not just to the lamb but to the dish as a whole including the earthy mushrooms, we were officially super impressed.

The whole lemon sole was Jules' choice.  By all accounts this simple fish dish was just as impressive as the lamb and the skill of Mr Sommelier.  Perfectly cooked and light as a feather, supremely crispy on the outside and scattered with meaty prawns.  Jules proclaimed that this was one of the best fish dishes she had ever eaten, I don't think she was exaggerating, I could see it in her eyes.  

I could also see it in the skeleton of the fish which looked like it had been steam cleaned using some industrial catering equipment.  Predictably Mr Sommelier delivered once again with a white wine which didn't do much on its own but once combined with the sole flavours really came alive.

Pudding, exactly like the other courses, was unashamedly British.  I got the treacle tart which is one of my favourite dependable desserts.  The treacle itself was beautiful, not sticky at all but it had that huge, warm sugary hit.  The camomile, lemon and vanilla cream did its job as the counter to the tart, very pleasant indeed.  The only minor quibble came when I got to the pastry which was a little bit hard, looked quite dark and almost had a wholemeal taste to it which dissipated the sweetness of the treacle.  It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, I quite happily wolfed it down.  It really helped that it was accompanied by my first dessert wine that I've really ever properly enjoyed, it had a real caramel hit of its own!  Mr Sommelier was going in to the final dish with a 5-0 record.

Now Jules had stated that she was going to go for the marmalade sponge and she was pretty sure of this decision.  The waiter had other ideas, before we had given our choice he told us that his favourite dessert was the raspberry soufflé, Jules offered that she had considered that dish, "Then you can have that" said the waiter and dramatically disappeared.  Woof, when somebody tells you what you are going to eat for your dessert it better be good.  Before we had a chance to try it though the waiter returned to tell us that the first one had collapsed and so the chef was not happy sending it out but it would only be a few minutes for a replacement, very classy service.  It arrived and the waiter's advice didn't stop there, he instructed Jules to knock a hole in the top of the soufflé and then pour the sauce on top.  The waiter's advice was unarguably brilliant.  Even just looking at it you could tell it was a great soufflé, it appeared that it was desperately trying to escape the dish taking an entirely vertical escape route.  It had a tiny little bit of crunch to the exterior then super fluffy on the inside, the interior was fairly sweet but well balanced with the super sharpness of the sauce which if it all got too much for you could itself be balanced with the unexpected ice cream on the side.  Mr Sommelier made it 6-0.

So two great starters, two perfect mains, one amazing dessert and one good dessert.  Not a bad show!  We were blown away by the whole experience from beginning to end.  The wine matching was phenomenal, I cannot recommend more that you ask for recommendations to accompany your meal, it really pushed the already excellent food to the next level.  Not only that but the explanations of the matchings and the the background of the wines was delivered with enthusiasm and confidence but, most importantly, it was actually interesting information!  We instantly decided that Alberts would be a place that we would love to bring visitors to to really show off what British food can be, what great produce we have, what great service we can deliver and what lovely architecture and style we have.  All without pinching from any other nations.

Today we are going back for Pay Day steak day.  Can't bloody wait.

Albert Square Chop House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Banyan Tree

Thursdays are the new Fridays and on this particular Thursday we were seeing the weekend in with a trip to The Whim Wham Café for the book launch of our favourite purveyor of addictive ice cream, Ginger's Comfort Emporium.

The book launch was a splendid affair and I highly recommend you get your mitts on a copy of Melt while we're getting the odd spot of nice weather so you can impress your mates by making them all the favourites (or just CHORLTON CRACK over and over and over again).

However, having eaten several servings of ice cream as well as a slice of a cake made entirely of ice cream (and a smattering of chocolate), Bailey and I decided to go off in search of something savoury to chow down on, seeing as Thursdays are the new Fridays. We decided on The Banyan Tree on account of it being just around the corner in Hulme. The Banyan Tree had been on our radar since Manchester Confidential had named it as their favourite 'Neighbourhood Venue' of the year in their review of 2012.

Nice church in Hulme
Located in the middle of Hulme, The Banyan Tree is in a bit of a random spot. However, much like the nearby Kim by the Sea, this place is obviously a very popular little local favourite as it was pretty darned busy. We really liked the interior of the place which was very colourful and fresh.

Bailey was pleased with the beer selection and picked up a pint of local Castlefield Bitter and a Samuel Adams which he was very excited to see available on draught. I was driving so even though Thursdays are the new Fridays I wasn't able to take advantage of the excellent value 2 for 1 cocktails offer.

Menu looked good - sounded like high quality 'bar' food (slightly more modern / less rustic than pub food) with plenty of choice but maybe a few quid too expensive in places.

Even though Thursdays are the new Fridays we decided we would just go for a main course each, that was until we spotted the Garlic and Chilli Paneer Fritters on the 'Bites' menu and simply couldn't resist and ordered a portion to have on the side. These were a fantastic shout - firm, salty paneer covered in a super crispy breadcrumb and drizzled in a delicious balti sauce. Mouth = watering.

Bailey's main was a Cajun Spiced Chicken Burger in Japanese Breadcrumbs. This came in a soft, double ciabatta bun like no other I've ever seen before - perfect for cutting in half. The chicken was moist and according to Bailey tasted like "the best KFC chicken".

The accompanying fries were thin, crisp and salty and according to Bailey tasted like the "best McDonald's fries". All in all a top fast food-esque experience then, but with a little more refinement.

I chose the Salmon Fillet in a Fish Net from the weekly specials menu. The salmon was nicely cooked, meaty and a hearty portion. I wasn't too sure about the fish net, for me it seemed a bit too soggy in places and a bit too toasty in others. The Fricasee however was great - crunchy enough veg in a creamy sauce. The perfect dish for a Thursday!

So we were pleased to have gone and seen what The Banyan Tree was all about and had been rather impressed with the food, bar and service. Like Manchester Confidential said, it's a decent neighbourhood venue. I'm not sure if we'll be rushing back just yet because there are so many other places we need to check out, The Banyan Tree is a bit out of the way for us and I think the prices were a touch too high. However I'm pretty sure that if I lived in Hulme I'd be there all the time!

Look at this photo of Bailey. Lol.
Banyan Tree on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


We've been swept up in a bit of a whirlwind of adoration for South Indian food of late. It all started with a single episode of Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation followed closely by the delicious Dosa Xpress becoming one of our favourite cheap eats in Manchester. After hearing a few shoddy reviews of Chennai Dosa, there remained just one South Indian eatery on our list to try out and that was Sindhoor.

While technically I'd eaten Sindhoor's food before at Indy-Man-Beer-Con, I'd had a fair few beers on this occasion and, while I remember it being delicious, the curry I'd sampled had served as more of an injection of much needed stodge to my belly than a delectable treat that I'd truly appreciated. I wanted to pay them a proper visit, especially after respectable foodie and all round super person @hansyquirk recommended them. 

If there was one fellow who was going to be digging a visit to Sindhoor it was my dear old dad, Roy Morris, so one weekend when he and my mum were visiting we decided to introduce them to the delights of South Indian food. This was a bit of a role reversal as it was Roy himself who first introduced me to the wonders of going out for a good curry - a pleasure I'll readily admit it took me a good few years to get into.

We thought we could get the ball rolling for starters with a round of different South Indian bits and bobs that we'd tasted at Dosa Xpress and we knew my parents would love. The Plain Dosa was light, tasty and absolutely huge. There was quite a lot of frenzied tearing at the dosa and it disappeared in minutes as we all started to frantically break off bigger and bigger bits. My parents describing it as "amazing". We were particularly impressed with the sambar and coconutty chutnies.

The Vada we liked better than the Dosa Xpress version as they were super crispy on the outside but not at all overdone in the middle.

The Sambar Idly were quite different to ones we'd tried before. The menu described them as being "soaked" in sambar which was absolutely true - there was a whole bowlful of the stuff with the idly hiding away inside. We loved the soft, sticky consistency of these lovely rice cakes.

When it came to ordering our mains I was delighted to see the menu set out with the veggie mains first followed by a section entitled "Non Vegetarian". Not often you see that. Bailey was giving zero hoots about the fact he'd already eaten a dosa and went for the Chicken Dosa. While the dosa was once again crisp and bang on, he felt the masala filling was a bit dry for his tastes. Thankfully he had some more of those excellent chutnies to see him through.

My mum picked the waiter's brains about what would be a healthy option for her. I was somewhat confused when he suggested a Chicken Biriyani - something I'd normally advise slimmers to steer clear of. Sure enough, Aída's biriyani arrived looking as healthy as anything with a gorgeous pile of perfectly cooked rice, boiled eggs, chicken and a nice pot of thick yoghurt. She absolutely loved this.

Both me and Roy couldn't choose from the mouth watering selection of curries so decided to share a couple - the very light, starchy and mildly spiced Dal Tadka. This was gorgeous and very flavoursome and was beautiful with a bit of perfectly cooked Plain Rice. The Plain Rice paled in comparison to the taste sensation which was the Lemon Rice which Roy simply could not get enough of. My favourite curry of the evening was however the Palak Paneer. It tasted rich with the distinct flavours of ginger, garlic and cumin. The paneer was light and not chewy or squeaky like you sometimes get. The entire dish had a beautiful range of textures in fact.

The mains had done the job of blowing Roy away, who kept referring to the meal as "very special" and expressing his disappointment that he himself didn't have a local South Indian gaff to go to in Sheffield. This was great, I love seeing my dad enthused about a meal (the last time it happened was at our other favourite, Mughli - he is a man of taste!). Even more heartwarming than this though was the unlikely friendship Roy struck up with our excellent waiter. He couldn't have been happier to tell Roy all about South Indian food and its origins, and even showed Roy a selection of photographs of Kerala (I now want to go on holiday there). I really think this guy was the best waiter we've come across in years, he put us at ease and looked after us and we ended up having so much fun and spending so much of the evening laughing our heads off that we didn't even notice any of the negatives like the slightly tired décor and tatty menus.

So if you were to ask me if you should go to Sindhoor, the answer would be a resounding yes yes yes! Great food, great service, great times to be had and most importantly, a real dad pleaser.

Sindhoor South Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Olive & Thyme

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is go for either a nice relaxing lunch or a leisurely stroll. Well on this particular Sunday we really were in for a treat as we had both of these activities on the agenda. We started our day's adventure with a trip to Chorlton Water Park - one of the best parks in Manchester if you ask me. Having fed the ducks and geese a load of bread crusts left over from a tea party we'd had the previous day, it was now time to fill our own bellies at the nearby Olive & Thyme.

Olive & Thyme hadn't been on our radar for long but no sooner had we started following them on Twitter, we got an email from Rachel who was in charge of the restaurant's PR asking if we'd like to come down and do a review. This came at a perfect time when we'd just come back from Barcelona with a big dose of the holiday blues. All we knew about Olive & Thyme except that it was fairly new, it was run by the same people as Panicos whose famous kebabs we are yet to try but have heard a LOT about and that it is one of a few restaurants of a similar ilk in Chorlton.

Our first impression as we arrived was of the pleasant outdoor terrace - pretty swanky for England, and I can imagine it getting pretty rammed the minute we get the tiniest ray of sunshine. Inside, the place was also nicely done out with a wood burner in the corner and a fairly modern interior. Even the "muzak" they were piping out was pretty relaxing. It was just a shame it was a little bit quiet, although I think most of Chorlton is too busy fighting for a table at The Parlour on a Sunday.

The starters selection is great - everything sounds delicious and just my sort of food. We kicked things off with a Lavas flatbread made in Olive & Thyme's own traditional bread oven (all customers receive one of these bad boys free with their meals) and a Hot Lux Meze for Two. We didn't know what to expect of this meze and assumed it would be a lighter taster of a few of their starters, so were pretty surprised to be presented with a gut-busting plate featuring olives, falafel, sucuk sausages, mozzarella risotto balls, halloumi, hand-rolled meatballs, houmous and Sigara Boregi feta cheese pastry rolls. Along with the flatbread this was quite a generous portion of food!

The flatbread was light and crispy and served with a tasty aubergine dip and an irresistible garlic butter. Not quite as good as the ones from Zeugma, but still up there. The Meze was piping hot, fresh and all of a very good quality. We particularly liked the houmous and mega cheesy risotto balls, Bailey tells me the meatballs were great too. These two plates were definitely the dishes of the day for us and what we will be coming back to Olive & Thyme for. I can imagine whiling away a sunny Saturday afternoon on the terrace with my friends knocking back the beers and a few Mezes and flatbreads between us. However, as I say this was a lot of food and a starter between two this was really filling, and remember, we are a pair of gannets. I could quite happily have stopped eating at this point had there not been mains on the way.

The mains selection was a lot less inspiring than the starters with what, in my opinion seemed to be far too many things on offer. Maybe they thought, given the competition in Chorlton, offering more things might get more people through the door. Not too sure. I chose the Vegetarian Moussaka which was a really hearty portion of cheesy, rich, courgettey, auberginey naughtiness with rice and salad. Ordinarily I would have been all over this veggie moussaka but after the meze it was all too much and I had to leave some behind... Me leaving food?! Unheard of!

After spotting the wood-fired oven in the kitchen, Bailey decided to go for the Al Funghi pizza and had high expectations on the back of the quality of the Lavas flatbread. While this was a decent enough pizza with a crisp base, he felt the toppings and sauce could have done with a bit more oomph and overall it didn't quite set his world on fire especially considering the oven it had been cooked in.

We really couldn't find any space for a dessert (but just so you know we'd have gone for the Baklava) but our arms were twisted to try a Turkish Coffee. I was glad we gave this a go as it was quite a treat to be presented with opulent platters of silver coffee cups and dishes of Turkish sweeties, I felt like we were being given a sneak peek into a wonderful Turkish tradition. In fact this looked so good that, I kid you not, someone walked past the window, looked at our coffees then come in and ordered one themselves!

I'll have what they're having.
Service was efficient throughout the meal (with the exception of being asked if we had finished our starters when we were clearly still chewing) and we had a chat with the manager who was a good dude and made us really want to go on a culinary tour of Istanbul - he is clearly very passionate about Turkish food. This did again start us off wondering why there are so many other random items on the menu, including the pizza that Bailey ordered. We think Olive & Thyme could really make more of the things they are really great at and that they are passionate about and not try to please everyone. If I were them I would be making a huge song and dance about how fantastic their flatbread / meze combo is and how special an experience their Turkish coffee is and that they have a huge beautiful terrace that you can come and enjoy it all on. If you're lucky enough to catch a ray of sun in Chorlton and fancy a terrace snack with a difference, we think this could be just the place for you. However, choose from the menu carefully - let them stick to what they're good at and avoid the random stuff.

Olive & Thyme on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Foodies Festival Competition

Good news everyone!  The generous people at Foodies Festival have given us two tickets to give away to their splendid food festival.  I say give away but we don't really like the idea of giveaways so I am afraid you are going to have to do a tiny little bit of work to be in with a chance.  Not too much though...

Foodies Festival is being held at Tatton Park this year on the 17th, 18th and 19th May.  There will be lots going on with demonstrations and more importantly plenty of good nosh to try.  Tatton Park is absolutely beautiful, food festival or not, and one of the most exciting bits of a visit to Tatton is the very likely encounter you will have with a herd of majestic beasts...

Yes deer!  I've never visited Tatton Park and not seen a bucket load of deers and therefore they are the focus of our competition.  To be in with a chance of winning the two tickets we would like for you to create a picture that depicts a deer and send it to us!  We will then choose a winner on the 12th May and get in touch with the winning artist to get their tickets to them.  Now then you don't have to be a professional sketcher to win this prize, we aren't looking for photo realism, we are looking for creativity and the ability to capture the noble heart of this mysterious mammal.  We will accept any type of picture as long as you can send us a digital image so you can just get your crayons out and then take a camera photo of your masterpiece.  The only firm rule is that it has to be an original picture but I know this rule would not be broken as immoral people don't enter arts based competitions.

For those of you who don't win the tickets (or don't own a pencil) you can still get yourself down with the below two for one voucher...

So get tweeting us your pictures!  The winners and losers will all be posted on this blog post for all to see.  Good luck!

RESULTS! Please note, this competition is now closed.
This afternoon we have been delighted to receive some art of the finest quality. Below is possibly the most wonderful display of deer-based art you will ever have the good fortune to see in one place.

Artist: @ThingsToDoinMcr. Bonus points for writing own, rather pleasant caption

Artist: @TesniHaf. Bonus points for professionalism and for capturing the jaunty pose of a happy deer 

Photographer: @JennDuck. Bonus points for close up photo of eye contact with Chestnut Otter & Owl Sanctuary deer 

Artist: @Scallop_Cheeks. Bonus points for use of 100% CGI technology

Artist: @LaraLaRouge. Bonus points for filling our hearts with deer-based joy. Oh and top notch pun

Photographer: @LottieMoore. Bonus points for using picture of actual Tatton Park deer
Unfortunately, while I'm sure you will agree everyone here is a winner, there can only be one recipient of the much coveted tickets to the Foodies Festival. For sheer ingenuity and originality combined with a passion for recycling, the tickets go to the artistic genius that is @Fi3hCake. Enjoy your foodies day out!

This art is a-peel-ing


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