Monday, March 24, 2014


Chorlton! The land of the dog lover! The kingdom of good boozers! The realm of the overpaid BBC executive!  We do like Chorlton!  We get over as often as we can for a good pub crawl but it's not very often it ends up being our dining destination.  For whatever reason it seems to have a high proportion of great pubs compared to great restaurants with the exception of the fantastic Coriander, The Beagle's various food incarnations and Manchester's best kebab shop Panicos there isn't really anything remarkable.  Don't get me wrong there aren't any bad places either and there are some perfectly reasonable places to get scran from but it seems that Chorlton is jut a little short changed on the sit down eatery front.  The one place we'd heard lots and lots of great things about but never had a chance to try was Arian.  That isn't the real Arian website I just linked to by the way but it is the one shown on their Trip Advisor page and I like the music so I thought I'd roll with it.

Trying to book gave us our first taste of how popular it must be, we called and asked for a table at 8pm but were told they had no space until 9pm.  No worries we thought, we'd still have time to eat and get down the pub for last orders to meet up with some chums.

Arian is located just south of the 'Four Banks' in Chorlton and as it's a BYOB affair (plus cool points) it was an easy option to stroll down to Carringtons to pick up a bottle.  As we cruised on past Arian at 8pm we noticed that half the tables were empty.  Bit weird.  Carringtons supplied an excellent bottle as always, we even had a good chat with the fella in there who said he'd eaten everything on the Arian menu.  Expectations were rising!  Bottle secured we trotted across the road to Morley Cheek's to grab a pint and bide our time before our table was ready.

We arrived at bang on 9pm to find that two of the tables which were free at 8pm were still sat unmade, hmmmmmmmmm not sure why we couldn't have had those earlier but maybe there had been a few cancellations, either way we ended up being seated at the moment that a table of 16 were having their order taken.  The table we were given was right by the front door which was a bit of a bummer as there was a continuous stream of smokers from the party table going in and out of the front door.

I wasn't really a massive fan of the interior of the restaurant I have to say.  The panelled ceiling reminded me of a poorly maintained office, a lot of the decor looked pretty cheap and there was a mystery substance liberally splashed across the wall we were seated against.  The whole restaurant needed a little bit of a spring clean and a lick of paint.  Oh yeah they should probably take their Christmas decorations down now as well.

Arian deal in Persian cuisine and the menu looks top notch, plenty of varied choice especially for the veggies amongst us.  It felt a little bit pricey at first glance but we had been reliably informed that the portions were designed for The Incredible Hulk and the flavours exquisite so we didn't mind one bit.  It took about 20 minutes for our order to be taken while the party were attended to but when the lovely waitress arrived pen in hand I went for Falafel for starters while Jules plumped for the Mirza (a dish of aubergine, egg and tomato).  We popped the cork on our wine and Jules ordered a Persian tea to accompany her starters.

The waitress disappeared from the front of house and we then didn't see her again for twenty minutes at which point the big party's starters started to arrive.  In that twenty minutes a table of four elderly people desperately peered around to try and obtain a bill whilst a young lady from the party table stood waiting at the bar seeking a wine glass for so long that she gave up, went behind the bar and grabbed one herself.  When the starters did begin to flow out to the party they also began to flow back in to the kitchen as there were quite a few problems with missing items and cold food.

Because of this general mayhem it was nearly 40 minutes before our starters appeared and the tea was still nowhere to be seen.  I asked if we could have our tea to which the flustered waitress snapped "No!" before quickly regaining her composure and asking if we would like it with our main course.  I asked if we could have it with our starters and it did indeed arrive shortly after.

The best part of any Middle Eastern meal for me is the super hot and tasty fresh bread, something that Olive & Thyme just down the road from Arian completely understands.  As soon as I clapped eyes on Arians effort at bread I was incredibly disappointed, it was flat and pale with just a few little chars.  I'm not sure how it had been prepared or how long it had been sat waiting to be brought out to our table but it was cold and didn't taste of anything, that isn't an exaggeration, when I put it in my mouth and chewed my way through it my brain was confused as if all the taste buds had been extracted from my tongue, it was a flavour black hole.  After it had been sat on our table for a few minutes I went back to try another bite but it had become so stale that it had taken on the shape of the basket, it now had the appearance of a giant chewy pringle.  The falafel wasn't much better, it was cold and tasteless accompanied by sauce which both looked and tasted like it had come out of one of those giant kebab shop sauce bottles, super sweet and nothing else it had that gloopy emulsified texture to it.  The fresh salsa that sat unassumingly on the side was fresh at least.  Jules' Mirza was just as flawed, although it was tasty with a good hit of smoky flavour it was also very oily and only just luke warm.  I have no problem waiting for good food in a busy restaurant but I do have a problem waiting for bad food in a chaotic restaurant.

Again there was hardly anybody out front (maybe two appearances) for over thirty minutes so we certainly didn't get a check back or even any eye contact to tell the lovely waitress that we were unhappy. The table of incredibly patient elderly couples carried on attempting to pay and when they did pin the waitress down they tried to tell her how it was nice to come back to their local restaurant, she walked off mid conversation, they looked perplexed and left.

As a side note something else happened at this point which was obviously not the fault of the restaurant but didn't help the situation.  A gang of youths had congregated at the restaurant window (which I was sat right in front of) and had proceeded to practice their roundhouse kicks, striking the glass a couple of times. I suppose kids should have interests and hobbies even if they are improvising martial arts moves in front of Persian restaurants.  Intimidating and hilarious at the same time.

Have you seen the film Precinct 13?
At this point we realised things were not going to get any better and who knows how long it was going to take for the mains to come out and we really wanted to get down The Beagle to catch up with some friends therefore we took the decision that we would pay up and politely leave. I did attempt to get the waitress' attention for some time but I was blatantly ignored, another ten minutes passed before she arrived to clear our plates which she did with a smile but didn't ask how the food was, forcing me to politely suggest that it was not very good, I picked up the bread to provide a demonstration of its new basket shape.  She apologised, and I asked if it was okay if we just pay up for what we had already had and go?  She said she had to ask the boss, no problem I said.  It was now 2 hours after we had been seated.

She came back a few minutes later and simply said "Your main course is going to be ready in 5 minutes" with her customary smile, this was a polite way of saying 'nope you're going to stay and pay for your main course, I don't care that your food was shit'.  I was a little bit miffed by this but still politely asked "I understand that but do you mind if we just pay for what we've had and go because it really hasn't been very good and we don't have time now to finish our meal?" The waitress had obviously been sent back by the boss to insist we pay and wasn't very comfortable at all, she had my sympathies but also she wasn't dealing with this very well.  She disappeared without answering my question and returned 5 minutes later with our main courses in hand and started to place them on the table.  I was now very miffed and said "I'm sorry but we don't want these, as I asked before we just want to pay and leave is that okay?" She carried on smiling, putting the plates down and saying "if you don't like them then don't pay for them" sensing that wouldn't be an option later on and increasingly getting more miffed I asked her to take the plates back. She relented and took them away leaving us waiting for another five minutes with no idea what was going on.

Then the boss came out.  He didn't look happy.  He didn't look happy at all.  As soon as he appeared at the bar I could tell he was pissed off, he put his head down and came straight over, he did not have a happy face, his face was distinctly unhappy.  When he arrived at the table he stood there angrily with his arms closed but didn't start the conversation, I began to explain the situation "I'm really sorry but we'd like to pay up and leave, the starters took 30 minutes to come out and..." he cut me off and angrily pointed at the table of 16  before saying "You booked in at 9pm!".  The man was correct, I had booked in at 9pm because that's the time he had insisted we book in... I felt like I had to defend myself a bit now so I said "yeah but surely you'd send a two top before a big party, anyway that's not the biggest problem, I understand things can be late, we tried to book earlier but you said 9pm was your only slot" he jumped on to the food without any suggestion from me "I've sent out seven other falafels tonight!" was his defence.  I'm not sure if the other seven poor souls who had consumed that falafel had accepted their fate or perhaps they had fallen in to a coma due to the bland flavours and were incapable of complaining. "I'm sorry but it was't nice, it was cold and it didn't taste of anything" (for some reason I attempted to mime the cold reshaped bread with an exaggerated cupping gesture).  I could see he was getting angrier and I wasn't a big fan of being spoken to like this in front of a busy restaurant so I tried to bring it to a close by saying I was happy to pay for what we'd eaten despite it not being very good "No you don't pay for anything" he shouted and he pointed at the door and stormed off muttering something under his breath.  How embarassing.  We nervously laughed, grabbed our jackets and walked out down the street to Jasmine where, even though it was very late, they sorted us out very quickly with a lovely mezze with beautiful fresh bread in a serene atmosphere with lovely service.

NOT the food of Arian, this was the lovely mezze down the road at Jasmine
Now I'm sure Arian were just having an off night when it comes to the service and the food, it was clear that they were running the restaurant on two people, I have a feeling the boss was also the chef and so the party had clearly caused an issue.  Loads of people love this place so the food must be OK the majority of the time.  Everybody makes mistakes like that, that's not the problem.  The problem is when the owner doesn't care about the bad service and the bad food which was clearly the case here, the problem is when guests aren't given the opportunity to let the restaurant know they are unhappy through the simplest of feedback routes "the look", the problem here is that when guests complain politely they shouldn't be ignored, their concerns should be addressed and an owner/manager shouldn't come storming out of the kitchen looking for a confrontation.

A lot of people argue that it's not OK to complain about a restaurant afterwards, that they  deserve to be given feedback on the day if there is an issue, people don't have a right to complain after the event without giving the restaurant an opportunity to fix what went wrong, I've always argued that this is not the RIGHT of the restaurant and the customer takes a risk when complaining in a restaurant that things will not be put right and their complaint may not be listened to and their experience on the night which they are paying for might be ruined further.  This is a perfect example of that, I complained politely and was treated like absolute shit which ruined my evening. Thirty minutes afterwards we were really laughing about it (the laughing in the restaurant was nervous laughter) but at the time it was incredibly intimidating and a very unpleasant experience.  I can't recommend that anybody ever goes to Arian because of this chance that the food and service might not be up to scratch and should that happen you might end up having to deal with the angriest man in Chorlton.
Arian on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Swan Inn

Bailey and I have been making a concerted effort lately not to waste our Sundays moping around complaining about going back to work. We also have that guilty feeling all the time about not making time to see people that we really want to see often enough. Therefore, we were really pleased to have a much needed catch-up with our teacher friends arranged... Going down the pub for a spot of Sunday lunch. YES.

Our friend Rick grew up in the rolling hills of High Peak and had a great little recommendation for us - The Swan Inn, Kettleshulme. He'd been coming in to this cute little pub for years and wanted us to try out the honest grub and cosy atmosphere that makes the place so popular with locals.

When Rick was a child, he thought this was a plate of worms...
It isn't very big at all - basically two little rooms filled with knick-knacks and nice old furniture. It was packed to the rafters on this Sunday lunchtime but they just about managed to squeeze our table of ten in!

The menu at The Swan is really good with locally sourced ingredients from the nearby farms and home-made puddings being its main focus. The Sunday set menu of 3 courses for 20 quid is decent value and Bailey was also super impressed with the good range of local ales.

This possibly wasn't the best time for me to visit a traditional British pub seeing as I've decided to be vegan for Lent. However, as I've discovered a lot recently, people seem really happy to cater for different dietary requirements and as I'd rung ahead they'd sorted me out with a main course, but unfortunately no starter choice. I was happy to eat the spongy, thickly sliced tin loaf that had been delivered to the table instead though. Bailey and quite a few of our mates around the table went for the Black Pudding which everyone said was really good - moist and really fresh tasting, a great pudding. Bailey thought the crap chilli sauce was an unnecessary addition but spot on otherwise.

Black Pudding as modelled by Nat, with scallops
Main courses went down an absolute treat all round and Bailey loved his Sunday lunch option of Brisket with a massive Yorkshire pud. The meat was tender and pink and the gratin, which was more cheese than potato, was delightful.

My vegan choice was Vegetable and Bean Crumble, which was huge and served in an actual oven tray. No messing with this portion. The veg were nicely cooked and the tomato had been really well reduced which made for quite a thick, rich sauce. I also loved the idea of the nutty crumble topping as an alternative to cheese - will definitely be stealing that idea. Although I would have liked the beans to have been cooked down a bit more and I needed to add a fair old whack of seasoning to it, this was a good vegan option and I was impressed that they made me something especially!

Everyone was predictably excited about dessert and the Sticky Toffee Pudding was a popular choice in our party. Bailey loved the beautiful ice cream but found the sponge a little dry in places, he thought it needed more of the delicious sticky toffee sauce!

My vegan dessert was amazing - Poached Pear with Roasted Plums. This should have come with an ice cream and ginger cake which I'm sure would have been even more delectable but I was more than happy with this - one of the best poached pears I've had!

So a superb Sunday NOT wasted, spent eating good food in a lovely pub with friends! Success! The Swan Inn was a great suggestion from Rick and we would recommend it if you're looking for a roast. It's a pleasant and easy drive out of South Manchester and it looked like there were some good walks around there, I'm sure it's stunning in the summer. Oh, but don't forget to book!

Harden's in 'writing about somewhere and not calling it average' shocker!

The Swan Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vegan Teriyaki Tofu with Miso Veggies

It's just over a week since I became a fully fledged vegan for Lent and things couldn't be going any better. I honestly haven't missed dairy and all of the restaurants / food traders I've visited have been genuinely happy to accommodate me. Bailey has also been bringing me daily vegan treats from Village Stores which has been lots of fun... admittedly some have been downright revolting but some have been amazing.

One of the things I was really hoping to achieve through this whole vegan thing was to try out loads of new recipes. Last night was my first chance as our vegan friends Hannah and Gray were coming over for a Japanese tea.

Vegan sushi
We started the prep with a trip to our favourite WH Lung. The Japanese section in here is pretty good and they seem to have gotten a few new products since I last looked. One of the little gems I managed to find this time was those tasty "sweet tofu bags" as I always call them, or tinned inarizushi! Very sweet but delicious and 100% vegan!

For our main we wanted to use some of the lovely veggies from our weekly veg box (also from the aforementioned Village Stores- shop local!), including the fattest purple sprouting broccoli I've ever seen and some baby aubergines that had massive thorns on the stalks - which I didn't notice until one of them was impaled in my finger. OUCH! I adapted a BBC Good Food recipe for these and really enjoyed the creamy miso sauce it made.

Covered in prickles!
There were a couple of mishaps including forgetting to buy ginger (hence the use of sushi ginger pickling water!) and almost adding honey to the teriyaki sauce before using my noggin and realising that honey is clearly not vegan, but everything turned out OK in the end!


For the Teriyaki Tofu
3 large Firm Tofu steaks
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp sake
2 tbsp vinegar from a jar of sushi ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp soft brown sugar

For the Miso Veggies
2 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp vinegar from a jar of sushi ginger
1 tbsp water
4 baby aubergines
10 heads of purple sprouting broccoli
1 large green chilli
8 spring onions

To serve
Japanese sticky rice
Red shiso sprinkles

Start by marinating the tofu. Cut the tofu in half widthways so you get two nice thin steaks out of each steak. Dry the tofu by placing kitchen towels in between each steak putting something heavy on top, like a big cookbook (I didn't have time to do this so I'm sure the dinner would have been better if I had!) Make up the marinade for the tofu by mixing together the soy, mirin, sake, gingery vinegar and garlic.

Stir well then transfer to two shallow dishes. Place the tofu into the marinade and leave in the fridge for as long as you can. I left mine while I prepared the rest of the meal, which was a couple of hours. Keep turning the steaks to make sure they get a good coating.

Meanwhile, prepare the veggies. Mix together the miso paste, mirin, rice vinegar, sugar, gingery vinegar and water together in a bowl. Put to one side.

Slice the baby aubergines thinly. Watch out for the spikes! Take a large wok, get it nice and hot then fry the baby aubergines on a medium-low heat for around 6 minutes, or until tender, stirring as often as possible.

Give the purple sprouting broccoli a bit of a chopping up as well, so you don't have any stalks that are too fat. Also deseed and roughly chop the chilli. Add those to the wok and fry everything for around 5 minutes.

Roughly chop the spring onions. At this point I added the spring onions and the sauce I'd prepared earlier, stirred well and then turned the wok off until I was ready to serve everything

Just when your sticky rice is almost cooked, heat up two frying pans to a medium-high heat and add the tofu steaks. Pour in some of the teriyaki mix to the pan and reduce down, turning the steaks as necessary. Add more of the teriyaki mix until it's all absorbed and has gone kind of sticky.

Meanwhile, also heat up the wok again to warm the veg through.

Serve the tofu with a nice spoonful of the miso veggies and a pile of sticky rice sprinkled with the shiso sprinkles.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


One of the many geeky topics Bailey and I enjoy discussing is the age-old 'service vs food' debate. Can a restuarant's bad food be redeemed by excellent service? And can bad service ruin a meal even when there's excellent food? We've always concluded that service is more important than you'd think - while we're obviously all about good food, if the staff seem to give a shit we're far more forgiving of a bad plate or two. Similarly, great food is not enough to make us return to a place where the staff clearly don't care or are rude. After all, it's the overall experience that's key.

With that in mind, our much anticipated first trip to Umezushi could potentially have put us off for good! We went down on a week night with our Japanese food-loving friends the Doyles and were less than impressed with the service. While our waitress was perfectly polite and friendly, service was at times slow and disorganised with long waits between the arrival of dishes, items missed off our order and a large portion of the meal spent by the Doyles watching us eat our food while waiting for theirs to arrive.

Yummy Edemame beans
That said, we were very impressed with the quality of the food we sampled that day. Tempura was great, with a perfectly light and crisp batter and a dipping sauce so good we kept hold of it to eat with the rest of our meal. I loved the cheeky little deep fried leaf, whatever it was!

Miso soup was tasty and quite fishy with big chunks of salmon in, but I personally didn't like it quite as much as the one you get in Yuzu.

As it was our first visit and we didn't know what to expect with the menu, Bailey and I went perhaps rather unadventurously for an Individual Selection of veggie and fish sushi. Although for greedy pigs like us, this was gone in a flash, this was by far the best sushi we've had in Manchester. While it's probably pricier than places like Yo! Sushi, you can taste the quality of the ingredients, which the peeps at Umezushi take great pride in - sourcing only the freshest and highest quality fish from Manchester's best suppliers. Also, I know it may seem like a little thing, but the wasabi was bloody gorgeous.

Was the food good enough for us to forgive the service issues? We weren't so sure at this point if we'd be rushing back. During our post-meal discussion, one thing Bailey and I did ponder was whether we'd been a bit boring with our menu selections - with the only slightly 'unusual' thing we'd chosen being the deliciously sticky Taiwanese Pork Rice. We hadn't even followed Food Geek's advice of ordering the Unagi! We decided that if we were to we return we'd treat ourselves to the full on Taster Menu.

Well fortunately we were given the opportunity to return to Umezushi just one week later as our friend and Yelp honcho Jonny was putting on an evening of sake tasting, Japanese food and origami (yes, origami! Cool non?).

This was the evening that we fell in love not only with Yelping but also with Umezushi. We're so pleased we went as there was no chance of us being boring this time - we just ate and drank what we were given... and what we were given was goooooood!

By far my favourite dish of the night and something I definitely wouldn't have liked the sound of on the menu was Tempura Nori. This was AMAZING. The tempura batter, while just as light as the week before, tasted a bit like wasabi peas. Probably my favourite Japanese dish I've ever eaten!

The sushi was great again, and this time I got to try the Unagi which was definitely the tastiest and yet another excellent tip from Mr Food Geek!

Another favourite was the Octopus Salad which was an absolutely intriguing dish, managing to be fresh and light while packed full of exciting flavours.

Even the dessert was good - while it's probably fairly difficult to balls up a chocolate fondant, this one was so good myself and lovely Yelper Beck who was sitting next to me couldn't resist scraping the plate clean at the end.

If that's not the sign of a good dessert, I don't know what is!
As it was a school night I was disappointed to be missing out on the Sake tasting but Bailey reassured me every glass was delicious and judging by the oohs and ahhs around the table everyone else seemed to agree. I needn't have worried as fortune smiled on me later in the evening when I won a bottle in the raffle!

So, what can we say, Bailey and I were very happy to have been proved wrong this time - not only would we say Umezushi has turned out to be our favourite Japanese restaurant in Manchester, but it turns out that the staff DO give a shit about food AND service. From our first visit we'd never have guessed that head chef Terry was an expert on sake and that he is one of the most lovely restaurant peeps in our city (we had the pleasure of having a fabulous chinwag with him at last week's @beatstreet Friday Food Fight. Their sushi rolls were predictably delightful). We're SO glad we got to visit again and would recommend that when you do, you ask for some recommendations and try some unusual stuff and don't be boring like us. Oh, and we also think you should join Yelp, as Jonny and co. are truly passionate about good food, great company and supporting local independent businesses like Umezushi! You can see my profile here...

PS- Dear Jay Raynor, we only paid for the first visit to Umezushi, Yelp picked up the tab for the second one so this is a 50% biased review :)

Umezushi on Urbanspoon


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