Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Samuel Fox Country Inn

Recently Bailey and I were in sunny Sheff Vegas over the weekend to celebrate jointly the birthdays of both me and my dad. My mum loves going out for countryside drives so we decided to hit up a country pub for our lunch. In the interest of trying out somewhere new (both in terms of eatery and 'little Peak District town'), we chose The Samuel Fox Country Inn in the Hope Valley mining village of Bradwell, which we had found on @FeastAndGlory's extremely useful "Sheffield favourites" page. Lovely stuff!

Not too shabby a view from the top of the hill leading to Bradwell
We rolled up on a quiet Sunday lunchtime and decided to take advantage of their two courses for £26 or three courses for £32 lunch offer. Not alarmingly expensive but enough for expectations of the food to be high (not forgetting also that chef proprietor James Duckett has worked under allsorts of food honchos including that absolute badass Marcus Wareing).

No better way to start a meal in a country pub with a pint of good quality local ale, and the Bradfield Brewery Farmer's Blonde more than did the job. What really impressed us however was the fresh bread. Now there have been a few debates about bread lately and we've always made it clear that we're firmly in the "if a restaurant gives a shit, it will make sure its bread is good" camp. Well Sam Fox certainly gives a shit. Those crackers - MM! So good we ordered more.

Onto the starters and the majority of us around the table were on the Fennel and Blood Orange Cured Sea Trout - fancy pants presentation or what? It tasted great too - perfectly balanced and a delicate and dainty starter. A big hit.

Bailey's Chicken Liver Parfait with Picked Rhubarb & Toast was also pretty dreamboat, the sweet toast some of the butteriest we've tasted.

Main courses were just as much of a hit. My dad was on the Beer Battered Cod with Chunky Chips featuring a beautifully light batter, thrice cooked chips Heston would be proud of and an insane tartare sauce. My mum described her Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables & Jersey Royals as "to die for". Happy parents!

Bailey's Mixed Grill of Derbyshire Lamb & Beef had a lot of finesse considering it was basically a massive plate of delicious meat featuring some unusual little twists like the mini shepherd's pie. This was great as it had all the merits of an ordinary Sunday lunch but was a bit more exciting.

My Risotto of Spring Vegetables was a fantastic veggie option and was a delight to eat as I kept finding all sorts of unusual mushrooms and unexpected greens. 

Feeling giddy after the fantastic food we'd eaten up to this point, three of the four of us decided to get involved in some dessert. I should say that although the desserts were really good, we felt they were the least exciting dishes of the day and I think from what we saw on our visit I'd say the Sam Fox's strength is the savoury stuff. That said I enjoyed my Coconut Pannacotta with Raspberries very much. I didn't love it as much as other courses I'd had but was very nice and creamy and the coconut flavour was quite subtle making way for a nice whack of vanilla, which I liked. A nice springtime dessert.

Bailey was a bit disappointed with his Sticky Toffee Pudding with Stout Ice Cream as it wasn't very sticky or um, toffee-y. We liked the way the dish tasted very "Northern" and had a sort of bitterness to it like Bonfire Toffee but thought they could have stouted up the ice cream a notch.

My dad's Hot Chocolate Pudding with White Chocolate Ice Cream was definitely the desert of the day...

I can't actually remember what my dad said about it but I remember that he loved it and I guess this picture probably says it all:

A delightful meal at Sam Fox Inn and there were other things we really liked about it including the picturesque location, the relaxed atmosphere and most of all the very friendly and down to earth service. Our waitress was so nice and once my dad got talking to her about which is the best well dressing (what's a well dressing? That's what I said - see the Wiki entry on it) in Derbyshire I thought they'd never stop. The décor of the place was fine but apparently just a few days after we were there they refurbished, so a bit of a shame we didn't get to see the new look pub. Oh well, an excuse to return! If you're passing through the Peak District or don't mind a bit of a drive out of Manchester or MAYBE if you can't resist checking out the WELL DRESSINGS (Bradwell's is August 3rd. Apparently the Sam Fox's rooms get booked up really far in advance - you've been warned), you should pay them a little visit!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Integrity and Manchester Confidential

Yesterday, Mark Garner, aka Gordo, asked me to write an objective summary of the perceived issues we have been aiming to highlight in recent weeks surrounding the advertising policy of Manchester Confidential. He promised that if I were to present an "honest, fair and not insulting" viewpoint, he would publish this on his website, and also respond. I decided against submitting this directly to Gordo for publishing, but hope that he will still respond to what I have to say. 

Anyone who takes any interest in Manchester's food and drink scene can't possibly have failed to notice the current feeling of mistrust and general dissatisfaction of some people towards the city's food writers and bloggers. You may have seen us vocally supporting blogging in general as we do think a lot of the perceived problems are not as great as is often made out. However, that is not to say that we do not think there is any truth in some of the criticisms or that every individual is acting with integrity.

One topic I see discussed often is the perceived lack of integrity surrounding Manchester Confidential's use of advertising, and I have seen this discussed both on Twitter and in the website's own comments sections. There appears to be a perception that ManCon gives positive reviews to businesses who choose to advertise with them but criticise or ignore those who don't. I have recently seen examples of the clients themselves getting some of the stick as a result of the negative feeling this perception causes. In addition, there have even been suggestions that the company uses high-pressure sales techniques in order to encourage businesses to pay them for advertising. It is this perception that I wish to discuss, and not whether any of these rumours surrounding ManCon's practices are factually accurate or not, especially given that I have no concrete evidence either way.

One of the practices that may be leading people to hold this perception is the paid reviews (or "advertorials") that appear on the site. These advertorials do not include any labelling indicating the fact that the reviewee is a client of ManCon, although with a bit of digging around the rest of the site it would usually become apparent to the reader that these restaurants are clients of ManCon's due to the weight of advertising. However, at first glance they could easily be mistaken for an independent review as the only difference in presentation is a lack of the usual 'score' and comments section.

These advertorials first came to our attention last weekend, when we visited Kukoos for a quick bite to eat which had very recently been featured in the ManCon Food & Drink section (see here). The restaurant was disappointing, and later discussing our experience with other Kukoos visitors on Twitter, the overwhelming consensus was that many people had had very similar experiences. We went back to look at the Kukoos review and realised it was in fact a paid review/advertorial, as confirmed by the restaurant (see below). We felt that we (and potentially many others) had been misled.

This is the core issue that we wished to discuss with Manchester Confidential: people feeling misled by these paid reviews could lead to a suspicion surrounding the rest of the site's content, hence the aforementioned perception of a lack of integrity.

Bailey did attempt to raise this issue with Gordo himself over Twitter. As per Gordo's request of presenting an "honest, fair and not insulting" point of view, I will not comment on this conversation and would prefer you to read the conversation here and draw your own conclusions (see here).

As a follow up, due to feeling generally dissatisfied with Gordo's answers, Bailey asked All Star Lanes to comment on another recent paid review (see here). We were not only interested in their answer, but were also keen to highlight to the restaurant that being reviewed in advertorials presented in this way can reflect badly on the business in question.

Skip forward a few days and we receive a visit from Gordo himself to our street food stall ¡Arepa! ¡Arepa! ¡Arepa!. For various reasons we have endeavoured to keep our business and blog separate but it isn't always possible and the majority of our customers are aware of our 'alter-ego'. I couldn't possibly transcribe the conversation we had with Gordo word-for-word, but the crux of it was that Gordo told us in no uncertain terms that if we should continue to interact with him and his clients, there would be negative repercussions involving him making it widely known that we were selling an "inferior product". Bailey asked for clarification as to whether or not he was threatening our business, to which he replied "Son, you mark my words: it's a promise".

This was quite a distressing exchange and with Gordo making it difficult to get a word in edgeways, Bailey did resort to telling Gordo to "F. off". This was regrettable and not behaviour that we would condone. At this point I stepped in to explain our concerns to Gordo - that we and many others feel that the way in which ManCon is run comes across as dishonest. Gordo challenged me to find any evidence of this dishonesty, and pledged to donate £1000 to a charity of my choosing should I manage to do so. For me, this would be an impossible task (how on earth could you prove how good or bad an experience a reviewer had on a single day?) but more importantly I feel Gordo is missing the point that some of ManCon's advertising policy and public conduct is toxic to the perception of all his site's content. He did accept my point of view however, and told me that if I presented my thoughts to him in writing, he would happily respond also in writing.

There's not really much else to say; as Gordo requested I have presented the facts, and to summarise: we asked a question regarding Manchester Confidential's advertorial policy and this resulted in quite an unpleasant threat being made to our business, although I'm sure Gordo could argue that there had been a threat made to his. So we await his response. I do have to say though, we don't intend to allow ourselves to be intimidated by Gordo's threats: should our business suffer any of the promised retaliations then we would be happy that this had been as a result of us standing by our strong belief that Manchester's food scene should be a fair, honest and independent level playing field.

EDIT 26/05/14: Since posting this article yesterday we've realised some of ManCon's clients could feel like we are criticising them by implication. We would like to clarify that we are not criticising them, in fact this post is not a criticism at all, it remains a simple recounting of facts. We would like to think that everybody understands that independent businesses need to advertise with major publishers like ManCon and they may not always have an option as to how those advertisements are presented.

EDIT 27/05/14:  ManCon have today updated their review guidance which can be found by clicking here. It is difficult to establish what they have updated on this 2012 post but it definitely now does include the line "we'll put from 27 May 2014: 'This article was produced in association with...'" when posting paid content. This can now be seen at the bottom of the aforementioned Kukoos advertorial.

As always with posts of this nature we'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment below with your thoughts as the inclusion of different outlooks really adds to the value of the post.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Channa Curry

The only curry recipe I've ever used to turn out not too bad is Ottolenghi's Two Potato Vindaloo. Seeing as I know absolutely nothing about Indian cooking (I'm desperate to learn! Please teach me!), I'm no good at coming up with new ideas so always tend to just stick to this trusty recipe and adapt as necessary.

This time I was having a huge chickpea craving and was dying to make a massive pot of healthy stuff I could snack on for the following few days. I'm not saying this was some fancy gourmet curry but it fed me for just under a week and was pretty tasty, so here it is!!

8 cardamom pods
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large onions
1 dsp brown mustard seeds
1 dsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground ginger
3 large red chillis
2 dried chillis
1kg vine tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large red pepper
3 tins chickpeas
3 large bunches of whatever greens are in season

Start by toasting off the cardamom pods, cumin and coriander seeds and the cloves in a hot frying pan until they become fragrant and browned, then transfer them to a pestle and mortar before grinding them up and removing the shells of the cardamom pods. Mix in the paprika and cinnamon to make a spice mix and put to one side.

Next chop the onions, add to a large pan and soften for around 10 minutes before stirring in the mustard seeds, the fenugreek seeds and ginger. Continue to cook for another 3 or so minutes.

Meanwhile, you can be chopping the tomatoes and red chillis ready to add to the pan. At this stage also add the whole dried chillis, the vinegar as well as some seasoning.

Simmer for around 5 minutes before adding the red pepper and chickpeas.

Now cook this down until the sauce is thickening up and the chickpeas are softening. This could take quite a while - to be honest I lost track but it was bubbling away for at least an hour while I was pottering about the kitchen doing other things.

When the sauce has thickened up, chop up a load of greens.

Add said greens to the pan with the rest of the curry and cook down until they're nicely wilted.

Serve up the curry with lovely steamed rice and sprinkle the plate liberally with coriander and chopped fresh red chillis. Healthy or what?!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Recent Tea Adventures

Being a Yorkshire girl I've always loved tea - a milky cup of builder's and I'm in heaven. However I think there are occasions when it's good to be a bit more adventurous with your leafy consumption, especially with so many places in Manchester to go and get a cuppa. With the help of self-confessed tea-snob Hungry Hoss (who has kindly given me loads of good advice - and tea!), I've been making the effort lately to try some new things. So here is a round-up of some recent tea adventures.

Sweet Octopus Tea Tasting
Hoss first brought my attention to Tako Horton's Sweet Octopus mail order tea website during a Twitter conversation about where to get the best Matcha Tea.

Even more exciting than being able to get well-priced, good-quality green tea from a lovingly-run local company is the fact that you can actually book Tako to come over to your gaff, make the place look pretty then serve you and your mates fancy green teas, traditional Japanese cakes and even a glass of booze! I couldn't wait to get booked on and was joined by Hoss himself as well as other tea-loving folk from Twitter.

Delicious Japanese cakes
The tea tasting was loads of fun, not only did Tako's teas taste great, she is also so lovely and easy to talk to, not to mention knowledgeable - I actually learnt quite a lot about teas in a short space of time. I learnt how to make Matcha tea, what happens when tea is grown in different lights, that I should never buy crappy supermarket green tea again and that my new favourite tea is Genmaicha (sometimes know as 'popcorn tea' because of the popcorn-esque flavour of the roasted rice in it) which I will be ordering at every future opportunity. Oh and by the way to avoid future embarrassment when ordering said Genmaicha, I made sure Tako taught me exactly how to pronounce the name of it...

Our tasting with Tako was honestly one of the most fun, relaxing and educational Sunday afternoons I've had in a long time and I would wholeheartedly recommend the experience. It's also a bargain when considering the quality of the teas and very affordable for birthdays and celebrations.

Proper Tea
Still feeling the tea love, I arranged to meet my friend Hayley just a few days later at the pleasantly located Proper Tea on one of the most beautiful spring days of the year. The Cathedral was a sight to behold bathed in glorious sunshine.

The tearoom itself is a stunningly done out place. Beuatiful tiled floors, unusual little touches in the décor and splashes of colour make these the perfect environs for a natter and a cuppa.

However I have to admit this is where my enamourment with the place ended as everything else I found a little bit annoying. The teas were fine but at £4.20 plus per pot I was left wondering what exactly was so special about these leaves when at the aforementioned Sweet Octopus tea-tasting I'd paid £7.50 for 10 tea samples, a glass of plum wine, cakes and the pleasure of Tako's company!

Also, I know a lot of people love the fact that you're given a timer with your tea and yes I know it's important to steep your cuppa so it tastes right (especially when you've paid knocking on for a fiver for it!) but it felt a bit gimmicky and "Look, look how much we know about tea!!"


The service left a lot to be desired too - on asking the waiter if they could whip me up a vegan sandwich made of the various dairy-free ingredients I'd seen on the menu on the other sarnies (avocado, salad etc), he looked at me as if I was a leper but said he would go and find out if this was possible... and then never bothered getting back to me. Harumph. I also felt quite patronised when I brought out my best Genmaicha pronunciation (as per Tako's adept instructions) and he replied "Oh, you mean the Jeeeeeeen my ssssshhhhhaaaaa...?" Um... no.

Finally, the slice of lemon drizzle cake Hayley ordered, although tasty, had gone dry in a way cake drizzled in copious amounts of lemon juice never should. A cake tragedy.

Having said that it was a pleasant afternoon and I wouldn't let my grumpiness put you off going and making up your own mind as it is in a really nice spot.

Fig & Sparrow
My dad and fellow tea lover always says that a hot cuppa on a hot day can help regulate your body temperature and cool you down. Not sure if that's an old wives' tale but I was happy yesterday to use it as an excuse to pop into my favourite Northern Quarter coffee shop Fig & Sparrow despite it being the most scorching day of the year.

I've always enjoyed the cuppas I've had in here; this time I decided to go for a Samovar Orange Spice tea, priced much more reasonably at £2.60 (also I didn't mind that they just told me to leave the tea to steep for 3 minutes without giving me any sort of timing device). This was the probably most fragrant cup of tea I've ever had - getting your nose in the pot was like sniffing in all the pong particles of a flowering orange grove. For those not sold on the old 'hot tea vs hot day' theory, Fig & Sparrow were doing all their coffees iced and Bailey thoroughly enjoyed his sweet Iced Mocha.

Service at Fig & Sparrow was, as always, nothing short of delightful, proving once again that you don't need to be an indifferent hipster poser to run a good café in the Northern Quarter.

So there are my recent tea adventures. I'm only sorry there weren't more to report! If you have any more good top tea tips for me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter or drop me a comment below!

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I wasn't always in to food.  Obviously I consumed food from a very early age because otherwise I'd have died quite quickly from malnutrition but I wasn't IN TO IT like I am now.  No my first real love was music and although I flirted with britpop, dabbled in alt-rock and spent considerable time listening to a number of shoe-gazing guitar bands my heart definitely belonged to punk rock from the age of fifteen years old. Specifically when my oldest friend in the world gave me a c90 tape that subtly nudged the course of my life, I still remember it well.  Now then, when people use the phrase punk rock it evokes (to most people) images of leather jacket sporting, two foot mohican wearing, safety pin aesthetic, uber punks throwing Newcastle Brown Ale bottles through the window of Woolworths (RIP) while listening to Anarchy In The UK on repeat forever.  Well I hate the Sex Pistols, I'm not bothered about The Clash and I'm disinterested in The Damned, they don't really have much to do with the musical world I love.  I'm more interested in a strain of punk rock not bound together by a musical style but linked by a similar appreciation for reducing the barriers between the artist and the audience, for removing the leeches from that chain that are only there to make money without contributing anything of value in an effort to benefit everyone else who actually cares about producing something good.  All those ideas and practices come together nicely under the term 'DIY ethic'.
For me the first band to embody these ideals and make a huge impression on my teenage psyche was Fugazi. For anyone who hasn't heard of the band (and I wouldn't hold it against you if you hadn't) they were formed in late eighties Washington DC when the hardcore punk scene was falling apart and in particular they emerged from the disintegration of punk legends Minor Threat (instigators of a seriously hardcore way of life 'straight edge').  They played post-hardcore music which, while it retained the thrashy, loud, aggressive beats that many punk rock bands had emitted in the past decade, was treading it's own ground incorporating more complex structures straying in to jazz rhythms and experimental vocal lines. That said, if I'm being honest it wasn't their music which captured my imagination (until years later), it was instead how they lived their lives.

Fugazi are famous for not being famous after repeatedly turning down six figure major label deals in favour of recording, producing and distributing their own music as well as running minimal tours designed to keep their ticket prices at $5.  The record label which formed in Fugazi's wake Dischord Records didn't deal in music contracts, each artist was advanced exactly the same amount of cash to create their record and then the profits were split equally going forward between the label and the artist.  They achieved widespread critical and decent financial success without making money for somebody else, without compromising their music and without exploiting the consumers of their art.

Skip forward a decade to the nineties to a Yorkshire teenager with a bedroom full of c90 tapes looking at this idea of doing everything yourself without any help from 'the man', an idea that promotes the creation of mutually beneficial communities of like minded people who are all striving to create something that might not have the same polish as a manufactured product but displays heart and passion in spades.  I liked that idea and the best thing about the DIY ethic is that when you are drawn to it you end up contributing to it, hopefully making the 'scene' stronger.  For me this translated in to promoting gigs along with some buddies in Sheffield on and off for ten years.  In those ten years I made countless friends, had lots of silly drunken nights, lost an unfathomable amount of money and enabled a great deal of bands to play gigs in Sheffield. There were gig collectives in every major city (and most big towns) in England that enabled bands with no experience or label support to tour for weeks on end and when these collectives linked with their like minded communities on the other side of the channel even facilitated European (and further!) tours.  This was all achieved by kids with no real idea what they were doing, they were just bound together by this idea that we should help each other just for the sake of helping each other.  This same DIY system was replicated in every bit of the scene such as record labels, merch production, photography, fanzines and even venues.  It was a great community to be a part of and I loved it, the magic moments were always at the height of a gig packed to the rafters, sweat dripping off the walls, kids jumping off speaker stacks, every single audience member with their fist in the air singing every single word in unison and then the thought runs through your brain that WE did this, WE put this together, WE made this possible, WE were living right in that moment.

Skip forward nearly two decades and we have a Yorkshire exile living in Manchester, writing a food blog, getting fat, watching a significant number of DVD box sets, purchasing a cat, perusing antique shops for a shabby chic shoe cabinet, spending inordinate amounts of time talking about craft ale, performing traditional DIY jobs (shelving etc.) badly, trying to generate enough spare recreational time to play video games AND watch Game Of Thrones whilst forging a career in a job that sounds like bollocks when you say it out loud.  I still like that idea though.  It still runs through my life although the tendrils have extended beyond my musical tastes and activities.  It still matters to me that where possible I'm involved in scenes that align themselves with that DIY ethic and I still want to make sure when I spend money it's going to the person who deserves it who has contributed the most for my benefit.

Our Manchester food scene has some great examples of that DIY ethic in the form of our street food operators and supper club owners.  Just think about it, some of those guys go and buy ingredients direct from the people who plucked them from the ground, they then cook them up and they give them to you the punter.  There's no chain, just people who are directly contributing to the end product which you end up thoroughly enjoying.  But what does that actually facilitate?  Firstly the right people are getting paid and they're getting paid a fair price, nobody is skimming a profit as an investor or a middle man.  I like that. Secondly because there isn't an external influence motivated by the generation of maximum profits the chef in question is going to cook something closer to their heart that doesn't necessarily scream 'huge success' or 'instant profit' or 'international multi million pound franchising opportunities leading to early retirement' so we the consumers end up with a much more diverse dining scene.  I definitely like that.  That isn't the biggest benefit to me though, for that we go back to this idea that the DIY ethic removes barriers between artist and audience.  For me you couldn't put a price on the experience of looking the chef right in the eye and seeing that they too are enjoying the experience of cooking for you, it transforms it from a mutually beneficial transaction in to a combined experience that is almost impossible to replicate in a restaurant environment.  If food had been my passion when I was a fifteen year old wannabe punk then I would only have eaten under these admirable conditions.

It may have passed you by but sadly I am no longer fifteen years old.  What that means is that I still feel this draw to the DIY ethic but I've also become a realist and accept the fact that there will always be ideas that outgrow it and they should take on a different form but this is no bad thing.  A good example of this would be independent, bricks and mortar establishments that have a significant financial responsibility which leads to some shift in their ideals and their product without ever truly forgetting that we should all really help each other for the sake of helping each other whilst understanding that cash grabbing and the crushing of competition harms the food community as a whole despite providing a short term gain to the aggressors.  I see this in Manchester (and beyond) in the form of owners helping other owners for the sake of helping, I see established venues offering generous opportunities to the aforementioned street food traders to create amazing events and I see like minded people banding together to achieve great things in the world of food that wouldn't be possible without cooperation.  All of these people are showing that it's possible to make a decent living and create a vibrant food scene for us all to enjoy, at the same time as being a decent human being ensuring the continued survival of that healthy scene.

Obviously there's the other side as well, the dark side.  There are people out there that actively do not support any of these principles.  They're in it for the money and the glory at any cost.  They don't care about you, they don't care about their staff and they don't care about their food as long as the GP is right and it's shifting, they're aiming for the lowest common denominator.  Sadly you do see it round our way, you see operators making money hand over fist trading on the reputation of others, you see loyal staff being underpaid for their sweat, you see an obsession with trading with mega brands rather than supporting the local little guys, you see blatant theft of original concepts and you see a streak of dishonesty running through food writing and public relations that is hard to ignore.  I don't like that.

Now I know that there are people out there that simply don't give a single hoot about the people behind the food and that's entirely up to them.  Most people probably don't want to care about the motivations of the owner and I think we can all agree it probably doesn't make their burger taste any different.  The problem comes much further down the line when all those little guys who are taking all the chances and striving for originality have given up and gone home because they've been unfairly trounced by a bunch of soulless, faceless businessmen.  At that point you lose the creative, grass roots element of our food scene which is the element that feeds a great deal of the mainstream food/restaurant developments and for those of us that love supporting people that love creating food you also lose that opportunity to experience the thought running through your brain that WE did this, WE put this together, WE made this possible, WE were living right in that moment.

As always with these kind of wordy posts I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment below with your thoughts as the inclusion of different outlooks really adds to the value of the post.


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