Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Moretti Gran Tour, Manchester

We were invited to the Manchester leg of the Moretti Gran Tour held by Birra Moretti featuring some of the top Italian street food vendors from London in conjunction with beer from the hosts. Held at the old Granada Studios the event was mainly indoors with a few stalls outside. Although I’m not a keen drinker of beer, Mr Nom was happily gulping down bottles of Birra Moretti in the hot weather.

Instead I was more interested in the street food on offer which included arancini balls by Arancini Brothers The porcini and taleggio was our favourite of the two on offer, the other containing tomato, saffron and mozzarella.

Pasta e Basta served up two variations of gnocchi, a beetroot version for the veggies and one with slow braised pork shoulder. I enjoyed the beetroot gnocchi more out of the two especially because of the creamy gorgonzola sauce.

Our favourite stall had to be Gurmetti who served up torta frittas. Extremely light puffed dough topped with thinly sliced pork cheek and served with parmesan cheese on the side. This was the only stall where we had seconds and we will be sure to visit them on Leather Lane next time we are down in London. 

The Cheeky Italian were serving panzerotti fritti. Deep fried calzone to order with pork & beef meatballs, tomato sauce and fontina cheese, the casing looked really heavy but it was lighter than expected. 

Outside Pizza Pilgrims were whipping up margarita pizzas. Although amazingly we witnessed that some people felt the two minute wait for the pizza to cook in the wood fired oven was too long and joined other queues which were even longer!  We weren’t complaining however as it meant we got our pizza fix quicker. The most popular stall of the night was probably Forza Win serving up porchetta sandwiches, the glistening and charred meat looked good on the spit roast but we were too full to try it.

Onto dessert which was provided by the popular Gelupo, which has to be some of the best gelato I’ve had in the UK. I was craving this the minute I saw the stall but I knew I had to try the savoury food first. I was a bit greedy and ordered three flavours during the first visit. All the flavours were too tempting so I requested smaller scoops of melon, which was so pure and my favourite, mint stracciatella and pistachio. I made Mr Nom go back for seconds. However to my surprise he came back with full sized scoops of ricotta & sour cherry and blood orange which were ideal to cool off in the sun.

What a great event it was, it gave us a little taste of Italy and if this is what we can expect to find in Italy then it will be high on our next holiday list. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

MASH, London

Over the last few years I have walked past MASH on Brewer Street in Soho hundreds of times without knowing what it was or what they served. It was only when I saw a retweet of an offer for half price steaks in celebration of the Danish parent restaurant in Copenhagen turning five. From the outside the corner site is unassuming, however on entering the Apple computers and clean and modern reception suggests that some serious money was spent on the decor. As we were lead downstairs to the dining room we were shocked at the size and spacious grand interior. The ceiling is very high with a stunning bar area. A paradise within the hustle and bustle of Soho.

Looking over the menu beforehand the Danish American steakhouse offers a variety of dry aged Danish, Uruguayan, American and Australian cuts of beef. The latter being two different grades of wagyu with ambitious prices for 200g servings. The steak that caught our eye was the 1.3kg American Omaha porterhouse, a t-bone cut from the short loin with tenderloin and strip steak either side. This was ample for the two of us to share and we asked for it medium rare and a monster grilled two inch thick slab of meat was presented to us whole at the table before being carved tableside. it was certainly the biggest steak we have tried to date.

The tenderloin was perfectly juicy and tender, simply a very good steak that cut like butter. The strip steak being on the smaller side of the bone was more medium than medium rare was equally juicy but offered a greater depth of flavour, owing to being more cooked. We ordered sides of chips, the house mash with bacon and sauteed mushrooms along with a pepper sauce. The star of the show however was obviously the porterhouse, we don't often go out for steaks but this was worth it.

Whilst being a very enjoyable steak the place is at the higher price range, the porterhouse usually sells for £95 so to try it for half price was a bargain. I guess the extravagant interior and location don't come cheap and have to be paid for, book a table this July whilst the offer is still on and make the most of it.

Mash on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Friday, 18 July 2014

Wahaca, London

Wahaca is a Mexican chain founded by former MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers. I have visited a few of the branches across London but not blogged about one until now. During a recent work trip we spotted a Wahaca just yards from the hotel and dinner for the night was a no brainer. With Mexican food focused on sharing it was ideal for a party of three. The branch we visited was a small one in Waterloo and it was one of the more rugged branches I have visited when compared to its more modern Westfield Stratford outpost.

After a short wait at the bar we were seated and it felt like we ordered the whole menu. The dishes began appearing with speed, just as expected with street food. We started with probably my favourite dish from the Wahaca menu, pork pibil tacos, slow cooked in a Yucatecan marinade with fiery pickled onions. With just the right amount of heat the tacos were piled high with the shredded pork. The other variation of tacos were chicken tinga, tender chicken in a smoky tomato sauce topped with crema and extra-hot chipotle adobo. Although good the pork pibil remains top.

From the specials we chose the crab tostadas, topped with shredded lettuce, avocado, tomato salsa and fresh hand picked Scottish crab. The crispiness of the tortillas made eating this a nightmare and I ended up picking at the crab and avocado which is a tried and tested classic combination.

Chicken taquitos with Lancashire cheese and fresh tomato salsa. By now it becomes obvious that the base of the small dishes menu is tortillas served in different ways with fillings.

We ordered two different types of quesadillas, chorizo & potato and chipotle chicken. However the former seemed to contain very few pieces of the advertised British chorizo so were rather disappointing.

From the sides section we chose crispy fried chunks of sweet potato dressed with smoky caramelised mojo de ajo. These were extremely good although they could be less greasy. Frijoles, creamy black beans cooked twice and served with crumbled cheese and crema, a classic Mexican accompiantment.

From the larger plates section we chose British steak, the Mexican way, this was strips of British steak, grilled and served with green rice, charred spring onions and house salsas. The steak was well grilled and nice and juicy.

Sonora salad of avocado, pumpkin seeds, beans, spelt and lettuce in a crispy tortilla bowl with a black bean & corn salsa. This added some much needed veg with the amount of protein and carbs from the other dishes. A good well dressed salad, a lady on the next table had one of these to herself but I don't know how anyone could finish one of the these by themselves including the tortilla bowl!

Stuffed to the brim we finished with churros and chocolate sauce. The churros however were very greasy and not cooked enough, maybe due to the oil not being hot enough. I would have also preferred the chocolate sauce to be a tad thicker to cling onto the churros as it just dripped off when dipped.

Overall, Wahaca is a good choice for a quick sharing type meal and is very reasonably priced, with  the total bill coming to around £30 per person including three rounds of drinks. One of the top chains along with Busaba Eathai and Byron Burgers.

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Little Italy, Liverpool

Little Italy is the latest venture by the guys behind Tribeca and Neon Jamon. It is situated in the former function room of Tribeca on Smithdown Road. Hot on the heels of Salt House Bacaro in the city centre comes this Italian small plates eatery. Bright and airy a tree dominates the centre of the room with chipboard wall decor. Things began with a nod to its Spanish big brother in the form of Estrella on draught, although I would of preferred to see an Italian beer on offer.

Baccala & langoustine ravioli with sage butter. The ravioli was filled with salt cod and langoustine however the pasta was a little thick and could of been lighter as the texture masked the delicate filling.

Beef shin pappardelle, slow cooked Tuscan beef shin pasta and pecorino cheese. This was the star dish for me. The pasta was firm and dreamy and worked wonderfully with the beef shin. To be ultra picky it was doused in a little too much oil.

We made a schoolboy error and ordered two similar dishes. Pigeon & hedgerow salad with blackberries, blood orange, hazelnuts & watercress and swordfish carpaccio with orange, fennel and rosemary dressing. Both dishes were buried under a mound of watercress which was unnecessary. The pigeon was seared well and the swordfish paired nicely with the dressing.

Pork & veal meatball sliders, brioche buns with Napoli sauce, buffalo mozzarella & basil. These were a treat, the pork and veal meatballs were a delight, the sauce and mozzerella simply combined flawlessly. I wish I could order a full burger size!

Chicken liver & rosemary skewers with a radish vinaigrette. This dish failed to live up to its billing, the grilled liver didn't pick up the rosemary or radish flavours.

Overall, I think I prefer Spanish tapas to Italian small plates which just do not have the same impact. With Italian larger portions seem to work better especially for pasta. However its good to have variety in South Liverpool and this new venture is sure to become a neighbourhood favourite just like Neon Jamon. 

Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Big Easy, London

The thought of barbecue meat for dinner always gets me excited but almost always ends inevitably in disappointment back home in the North West. Since my visit to the excellent Pitt Cue Co last year nothing I have had since has compared to it, let alone be fit enough to lace its boots. Therefore I was on the fence pre visit to the Covent Garden branch of Big Easy, not knowing what to expect.

The restaurant is spread over two floors and we were led to the basement where huge smokers and grills on display as you descend the stairs, so far so good with huge slabs of slow cooking meat on show. I don't tend to pay attention to surroundings and decor and even less so here as I was just looking forward to some ribs. It was quite dark in the basement with dark wooden fixtures and fittings. The wall behind us was filled with various business cards of customers, I strategically placed mine over a competitors from my profession.

Big Easy is also known as a crabshack and the grilled lobster and lobster bake options seemed enticing but we settled on our primary target and ordered the Bar.B.Q Blow Out at £18 per person. This included pit-smoked BBQ chicken, dry-rubbed St Louis pork ribs, Carolina pulled pork with cornbread, pit smoked beans, coleslaw and fries.

The tables are quite small and a stand was produced to hold the huge meat platter when it arrived in order to allow us space underneath for our plates and sides. As soon as I saw the meaty pork ribs I knew they would not disappoint. This will be my benchmark for 'meaty' in future. I like how the menu states all meat is served warm as it is slow smoked, rather than blast heated and roasted which tends to dry out the meat.

The pork meat was very tender and well smoked with the dry rub adding a great flavour. If anything they were too meaty and we struggled to polish them off! The pit smoked chicken was one of the most succulent pieces of chicken I have had in a while. Half a chicken was served to us and even the breast was extremely moist and not heavy to eat, just as well given the amount of meat on show. By the time we got round to the pulled pork we were suffering to meat fatigue and this had the least impact of all the meats. Whilst not quite on the level of Pitt Cue, it was certainly a very worthy contender and probably a lot easy to get a table given its size.

Big Easy on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Exclusive interview with Simon Rimmer

As part of the recent Cheshire Oaks Food and Drink Festival we were kindly invited to an exclusive interview with celebrity chef Simon Rimmer. The weekend festival included various short food demonstrations by Simon and Stacie Stewart, who headlined the cookery theatre to demonstrate how shoppers can create delicious home-cooked delights. Alongside were a variety of stalls featuring a number of local artisan suppliers with products ranging from pies, sausages and chutneys to cakes, fudge and other sweet treats.

Are there any plans to open a restaurant in Liverpool?

I own the Elephant pub in Woolton which I bought at the end of December. So we took that over and have massive plans, we were going to refurbish it in February but then we had a couple issues with planning. We wanted to make sure the locals like what we do. The danger is, you don’t know the area, and we really wanted to involve the locals. We have done a lot of tastings with them and we have even shown our regular customers the swatches of fabric that we are going to use. It has been great really nice process. We will open the doors in August. Everyone is excited. It will be a big change in there but it would still hopefully feel like the Elephant of old.

What type of food will you be serving?

The food is going to be really good pub food. We are going to make everything on site, adding interesting little twists. For our sausages and mash, we are using hickory smoked sausage and we are doing it on patatas bravas, We are also doing a curry, but rather than doing a straight forward curry we are doing a pulled lamb vindaloo with buttered almond rice, coriander and mint yoghurt chutney. Again we are not re-inventing the wheel but we are putting my take on it. The restaurant is going to be a modern American brasserie, again everything is made on-site. Good simple food but with an American kind of feel to it. The decor is almost themed, you won’t feel like walking into a TGI Fridays, we have put a lot of research into it, Southern United States, Texas, New York, a lot of it coming out of the States, I find it really exciting now these days, so we are using that as our starting point.

Where are you going to source the produce from?

As local as we can, we are going to use Bexters as our butchers, just Liverpool based, a macaron shop in Wavertree, Liverpool Cheese Company just 50 yards down the road in Woolton, sausages are made by Scotch Beef Shop butchers, which is again in Woolton village. The famous Blackstick Blue, that I was part of the develop team off when it first came out. So we are using as many local produce as we can.

So what demonstrations will you be doing today?

I am doing a series of quick demos, when you do demos in a shopping centre its usually small fifteen minute sessions to keep peoples interest. Whereas at food festivals then maybe forty five minutes,  Forty five minute demos are too long. I see people getting really disinterested, I see people thinking I got to buy them shoes!

The demos today will include meatballs in a bloody mary sauce, I do pork and beef meatballs in a proper Italian American way. A lot of meatballs in this country are in a ball, so it is just meat that is fried so as a result you get just the tightness, meatballs were created to extend the amount of meat you eat. It is a essentially a peasant dish so meatballs should have loads of bread in them, bread mixed in with the meat to extends as a result you should get, if you do it properly, it should be nice and silky in the middle.

Salmon nicoise salad, I will scorch the salmon just on one side. First I will take a piece of salmon and cut it into four slices, then into a really hot pan, literally lay it on the pan, take it out, let it heat on one side, so it crisps on one side and cooks on the other. So you almost get crispy and soft at the same time, one side it’s like smoked salmon, so you get that really nice texture and then chocolate roulade and we are lining it with nutella, which is a good filthy dirty dessert!

Are you a hands-on type of chef? Can you be often be found in your restaurants at Earle and Greens?

Yes, but not this year since we bought the Elephant, not as many nights as I did, purely for practical reasons. Now, in Liverpool I am developing the new stuff, training the staff and over in Greens, I am still there creating all of the dishes but at the end of the day, I have been doing this for 25 years. I have great people and the business are at a size as it is now, in many respects it is impractical to run the business during the daytime and stand behind the stove for another 8 hours at the end of it, I’m knackered! If I had only one site then yes you can still find me in the kitchen all the time on site all the time but now you find me in each of the sites, maybe one day a week as opposed to five or six.

We are a bit ashamed to admit being foodies we haven’t had chance to visit Greens or Earle yet! Can you tell us a bit about the philosophy of the food?

We started Greens twenty five years ago. From a business point of view, a lot of customers are meat eaters and we wanted to do something for Vegetarians. It appeals obviously to veggies but it is an interesting way of food. The food is created is inspired by South Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern cuisines etc. We want to do steak and chips, but we can’t do steak, so its how we replace that piece of meat in the dish yet keeping it interesting.

What is your favourite restaurant?

Ohhh… that’s a tricky one. It’s funny because it changes all the time. The busier I get, the more creative my point of view has to be, the more hats I have to wear with all of the businesses.  It changes at different times. At the moment, it is a bar just round the corner from my house, The Font, good beer and decent food. Because I am too busy if I can just walk round the corner I am dead happy. If I was going to recommend somewhere, I love Camp and Furnace in Liverpool, the food Slam Friday they do, the whole ethos behind food is good. Low level street food, in terms of expenditure, but in a very exciting way, I love it in there. London Carriage Works, by Paul Askew in Liverpool and in Manchester, I like Mr Coopers. Also Aiden Byrne is my mate at Manchester House, I think what he is doing is very creative although I have to be in the mood for it to be honest. I also like East Z East is good for a curry in Manchester.

How about in London?

I am in London at least two days every week. The interesting things in London, you see trends, I think Polpetto is fantastic in Soho. Equally, pizza which doesn’t have to be boring, it can be funky. I love Pollen Street Social and Berners Tavern is fantastic and incredible! If you want to be somewhere and just be blown away by the décor then that would be it, you walk in and think Oh My God! It feels like as a kid, when you first go into a restaurant, for me I remember it’s out of this world. It is just incredible.

What are your views on food bloggers? Are they good or bad for the industry?

Mixed really. Downside, it is very easy to be negative, easy to be smug. Oh that wasn’t very good; oh I didn’t really like that. There are good and bad points on any form of social media and online critiquing. Because at the end of the day, what gives you the right to think my opinion is better than yours, that’s the downside to it. At what point does a punter cross the line? Are you restaurant customers and do you want to write about your experience or what do you aim for? There are certain people who use it as a form of blagging which is one of the negative points. Some food bloggers in London, it seems like to get recognised, and use it as a means for eating for free bloggers, that calls the integrity into question. I think there are some great blogs who uncover little gems are great. I don’t think bloggers should blog big established restaurants by unearth new undiscovered gems for more of a buzz. However on the main they are good for the industry, the more and more people that do get involved with good food, the better.

Do you read the blogs about your restaurant?

No, Tripadvisor is the only one that we monitor; the only critical side about Tripadvisor is it seems like a negative place. I had someone complain, they gave us a two star rating on Tripadvisor because it was his birthday but he didn’t get a free glass champagne. There are so many sites to look at surrounding food and drink. Some who are have built up a huge following and are powerful tools. There is a danger with them, if they believe their hype a bit too much, then there are times their journalism can put you in the wrong light.

Being a red have you had an opportunity to cook for the team?

Yeah being in the public eye I have had the chance to collaborate with many legends and people from the club. As part of Kenny Daglish’s birthday and for his charity me and Kenny cooked in the kitchen. A few of the players have been in my restaurants as well as Brendan Rodgers. Although I was disappointed that he chose a well done steak!  In fact I am going with the team to New York in July for preseason.

What is your favourite type of cuisine?

Again it changes all the time, at the moment I love slow cooking, pulled pork and slow cooked meats. Ultimately, if it was down to my last supper then I will probably go for an Indian curry. I taught myself how to make proper char sui, I kind of got obsessive with that for a while, little things I will start to get obsessed with and go through phases.

One of the biggest single influences on my cooking is Thai, my best mate lives in Thailand and the first time I went over there I had done a little bit of Thai cooking.  I spent a day cooking with his housekeeper and I think that was the most valuable single day that I have ever had in my entire career. Just learning from somebody who is not a professional or restaurant chef and watching the way she did things, her knowledge of flavours was immense.

Follow The Elephant on Twitter at @elephant1934 for the latest news and launch dates.