Saturday 28 September 2013

Grillshack, London

Grillshack opened earlier this month on Beak Street, Soho.  When Mr Nom showed me the menu, I latched my eyes upon the buttermilk apple pancakes and was eager to visit them for breakfast. I was up early for a change which did surprise Mr Nom since I’m not particularly a morning person, and breakfast usually becomes brunch.  We were surprised how empty it was around 11am with only a couple of occupied tables.

After a warm welcome we were seated and introduced to the different ways of ordering.  The choices included ordering via the mobile app, a touchscreen ordering point or the old fashioned way at the counter.  We chose the easy way of walking up to the counter, although at busier times the other options maybe more appealing.

Deciding what we were going to have for breakfast was super easy! We had already decided on the bacon brioche roll for Mr Nom, buttermilk apple pancakes with maple syrup for me and cinnamon French toast to share.  Tea and filter coffee was offered via self-service.

The cinnamon French toast was heavenly!  I was thinking maybe it would need a little butter when they arrived but they were gorgeous as they were.  They were eggy and fluffy and light, the only thing I needed was more of them!

The bacon brioche roll seemed to go down well with Mr Nom although it was nothing special but just what is needed in the morning.  The buttermilk apple pancakes were so good, they soaked up the maple syrup and if I had to nitpick maybe they could be a little more fluffier.

I absolutely loved the breakfast and wish I could have the cinnamon French toast every week!  The normal menu has rump steak, burgers and grilled chicken among other things; all at affordable prices, our breakfast come to around a tenner which was very reasonable.

Grillshack on Urbanspoon

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Thursday 26 September 2013

Manchester House, Manchester

We made our booking for the first Friday evening service of Manchester House some time ago when bookings were first released.  Having recently seen Aiden Byrne demonstrating two dishes from the menu at the Liverpool Food & Drink Festival it heightened our anticipations.  I must admit when the price for the tasting menu was announced at £95 per head we considered going a la carte but settled for the 12 course taster menu in the end.  

Being new it was inevitable that the restaurant would be still finding its feet, having been advised that canapes and drinks would be taken at the lounge before the meal we made our way to Tower 12 in Spinningfields early.  We were greeted by a posse of staff including security, endless hosts and even lift operators.  When we reached the lounge the lighting was pretty dark which made reading what was on the bar menu a chore.  Eventually I settled on an Old Fashioned Whiskey.  This arrived in a glass bottle and left to smoke to taste.

Canapes were served which included langoustine presse, beetroot and foie gras macaroons and red pepper tuille.  So far so good with my favourites being the macaroon and tuille.  We were then led downstairs to our table after passing through the open kitchen where we spotted Aiden Byrne at the pass.  First impressions of the restaurant were that it was spacious with a sophisticated warehouse modern design.

Straight into the tasting menu the first course was bacon brioche, pea butter and a pea shot. Whilst perfectly enjoyable with a muffin like texture compared, it is unfortunate that the buttery and flaky version from The Ledbury was fresh in our minds from last month and skewed our opinions.  The pea shot reminded me of the water left over after boiling peas, although not that I drink that and this was much nicer although not as intense as I had expected.

Three sets of cutlery were then laid out and we were informed that three appetisers would arrive promptly one after the other.   First up was a fresh and cool chilled broad bean soup with goats cheese and balsamic.  This worked well together and I could of lapped up a big serving of this, although probably not the best idea with the goats cheese.

The third course was razor clam, squid and pepper.  The yellow pepper sauce was intense and the morsels of razor clam and squid were tender and fresh.  The small cubes of squid ink jelly didn't add much and were overpowered by the yellow pepper.

The next dish was outstanding, braised snails, potato and parsley.  The snail was plump and and delightful with the parsley sauce.  However despite the plural for snails we only had one each.  The next day I found out that a well known food blogger had 3-4 plump snails in the same dish.  I was quite annoyed as the food should be consistent and there is a massive differential here.  We both pay the same for the food and I expect to be served the same, if there were issues with produce on the night leading to stock shortages then surely the dish could be substituted rather than an under par serving leaving me feeling short changed.  A victim of your own success, if the dish wasn't so good then I wouldn't be so annoyed!

Before deciding on the tasting menu, we toyed with the idea of creating our own by ordering multiple a la carte dishes due to me wanting to try the pigeon dish which has had rave reviews. The tasting menu lists this course as foie gras, palm sugar, cherries and pistachio and I didn't know this was the pigeon dish until I saw the menu card at the restaurant which read, pigeon, foie gras, palm sugar, cherries and pistachio.  With this cleared up tasting menu it was. Our server mentioned a surprise ingredient on delivering the dish but this was already revealed on the menu!  Anyway the dish lived up to its praise so far and was well constructed in its flavour combinations and execution.  The pigeon breast was cooked perfectly pink and tender throughout and worked with the freeze dried cherry and foie gras inside the mock cherry,  with the pistachio adding some crunch to the dish.  The starter version we were told comes with a larger breast and pigeon leg which has sparked out interest on a return visit.

The next dish needs no introduction as it will have been seen by millions from the Great British Menu, a playful take on a prawn cocktail.  Encased under a passionfruit dome once cracked this revealed the prawns underneath.  The dome was slightly too sour for Mrs Nom but I thought it was just right,  although the macerated powder was a bit strong for me.

The next dish of oyster, oxtail and beetroot was one we had seen Aiden demonstrate before and even had the chance to try.  The beetroot infused oyster was a delight and Mrs Nom being a huge fan of oysters lapped it up.  The oxtail consume was strong and intense however the chunks of oxtail were a tale of two sides, one was tough as boots with no taste and the other was tender and beefy.  This was served with an oxtail doughnut and samphire and oyster emulsion, this didn't do much for me and the dough was much too thick for my liking though the emulsion was new and interesting which the dough needed.

A veg course was next, potato and artichoke salad with truffle.  I enjoyed this as it was different from the style of the previous dishes and provided a welcome dose of carbs with the previous dishes being very small to this point.

Another dish that we had seen demonstrated by Aiden was the turbot with morteaux sausage and choucroute.  Cooked in a water bath the turbot was firm and infused with fermented cabbage.  One of my favourite dishes of the night.

By this point I was yearning for a strong savoury slab of meat type of dish but sadly the pork dish with pineapple and rose cream was not it.  The perfume taste of the rose was too much for the pork.  The outer edges of the pork was quite dry but it was moist towards the middle.  Its just that I'm not a great fan of pineapple and meat combinations.

The first dessert course was Szechuan, lychee and rose although presumably Szechuan peppercorns.  This was never stated and just the word Szechuan was used repeatedly to describe the dish, Szechuan is a whole cuisine so was a bit miffed.  The dish was boring and safe for me with no kick coming from the Szechuan inspiration.

Service was beginning to become rushed at this point and the last course was described as just a take on the Manchester tart, not being from Manchester I didn't and still don't have a clue what the original consists of.  The better of the two dessert courses the layers and flavours were interesting.

By now it was nearing half twelve and I was yawning after being in work all day beforehand. We were presented with an assortment of flavoured macarons with tea, which were very kindly boxed up for us to take home.

Whilst this was an enjoyable meal, to reach the star status that Living Ventures craves for its crown jewel; the service we encountered needs fine tuning and for all staff to be singing off the same hymn sheet.  One of my main issues pre visit was the lack of response to email and Twitter enquiries sent to Manchester House, it seems they are very selective in who they respond to and I didn't once get a response.  

On calling the restaurant to enquire on the extended a la carte option on the a la carte menu I was abruptly told that you could choose extra courses for a supplement.  I assumed this was an extra starter but didn't quite understand how the pricing worked as this option was £15 and the starters hovered around this price.  I clarified this at the restaurant and was told that the extended a la carte option basically includes the first three courses from the tasting menu we enjoyed being the bacon brioche, chilled broad bean soup and razor clams.

Our server to her credit was very patient and answered the majority of our queries on the menu, however not all staff members displayed this and some seemed rushed when engaged.  Small details like this are picked up by patrons and consistent service is to be expected in fine dining establishments which Manchester House is trying to achieve. However with time and experience, as long as staff are retained with low turnover this should improve and needs to in order to match the efforts of the kitchen.

To be really picky, when I got home I noted that the receipt listed the dishes that we had and this totalled 14 courses including a beetroot gazpacho and ajwain cracker which we definately never sampled.

I read somewhere that there are over 70 members of staff over the two floors covering the restaurant and lounge.  On leaving it become tiresome and overwhelming answering five different people (our server, gentlemen who bought our bill, host who retrieved our jackets, lift operator/security?, downstairs host) on if we enjoyed the meal.  It will be interesting to understand the costs involved in running the operation especially staff costs as there are so many peripheral numbers of staff.

For the first week, overall we had a good experience in the restaurant and would return for some of the a la carte dishes I have my eye on, in particular the Welsh black beef dish for two and the milk and honey dessert.  Although hopefully by then management will realise less is more and it won't be necessary to pass through so many levels of staff and the other service issues highlighted above are ironed out.  It would be a shame to have the service spoil the food which at this early stage is highly promising.

Manchester House on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday 24 September 2013

Mr Cooper's House and Garden, Manchester

It seems like most of the Manchester bloggers have visited Mr Cooper’s House before we finally did last week. The restaurant is really funky yet stays in line with the heritage of The Midland. It is named after Mr Cooper whose house and garden sat on the site back in 1819. There is a big tree in the centre of the restaurant to reflect the garden and a wall of live herbs were growing as well which I thought was pretty cool.

We started the evening with cocktails at the bar which was actually the library section of Mr Cooper’s House before being led to our booth in the study. Mr Nom was surprised that his Garden of Tea-den cocktail was served in a teacup but it clearly stated on the menu.

After seeing an array of wonderful pictures of the food on Twitter and various blogs we had an idea of what we wanted to order.  We choose a selection of starters to share.  First was corned bread, chicken livers, mango chutney and watercress, tasty delights and I loved the mango chutney; it was a lovely touch to the starter and just made me want more of it.

Parmesan patties, mushroom ketchup and baby leaves were delightful. I was not really that enthusiastic when Mr Nom ordered this but it was a pleasant surprise, I think this had to be my favourite starter. The sliders were flavoursome and the parmesan wasn’t too overpowering which I feared at the beginning. To complete the trio, smoked eel torte, lovage and pork belly, probably my least favourite starter, the torte was slightly bland for me and the eel and pork belly didn't really come through as expected.

Hot on the heels of the starters, our mains arrived. I did not expect them to be small portions, but it just meant I have extra room for dessert!  I chose sweet potato casserole, spiced duck breast and sesame, the duck was slightly too pink for me, but I still ate it; in fact I don’t mind my duck served that rare now. The sweet potato was really intense in flavour and the sesame was an interesting combination.  Mr Nom had mussels, monkfish and potato romesco, this was seafood joy and I really liked the red pepper based sauce with the meaty fish.

Our waiter politely asked whether we would be interested in desserts, despite knowing the answer! There were several desserts that I wanted but we only selected two for now, don’t want to be too greedy and we want to return to work our way through the rest of the menu! 

We both had our eyes on the apple butterscotch pie so that was a must order. What came was warm chunks of apple pie with a puddle of tasty butterscotch, and a scoop of cinnamon crème anglaise, this was simply bliss! I also chose chocolate hazelnut pavlova, with chocolate sauce poured over the pavlova upon arrival, it looked delectable. I think I made a noise when I tasted it as Mr Nom tweeted that I had just had an orgasm over the dessert which Mr Cooper's retweeted, oh my god shame! Anyways It tasted like Ferrero Rocher, one of my favourite chocolates, a lovely dessert to end an enjoyable evening at Mr Copper’s house.

The food at Mr Cooper’s House has been consistent and great all round; if you are a big eater you do need to order several starters like us! The portions are quite small but it just means you can sample more dishes.  The service is very efficient; I was surprised how quickly each course was served, in the case of the desserts it was barely five minutes from ordering. It won’t be long before we return to munch our way through the rest of the menu.

Mr Cooper's House and Garden on Urbanspoon

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Saturday 21 September 2013

Neighbourhood, Manchester

It has been a long wait before I finally decided to pop along to Neighbourhood in Spinningfields for dinner without Mr Nom. Seeing as Neighbourhood is tweaking their menu I had to quickly upload this post before it became irrelevant. I actually wish I visited the restaurant earlier as it was lovely inside, I really want to sit at the big booth at the front but as it was only two of us dining the chances seemed pretty slim.

I was rather disappointed to hear that oysters were off the menu that evening but it didn’t stop me and my dining partner from ordering a selection of starters. Lobster tacos were definitely on the cards and Neighbourhood has mentioned today on Twitter that this dish is staying, Thank God because it’s divine a must order at Neighbourhood! A juicy chunk of beer battered lobster in each soft tortilla with sweet pepper ketchup and red cabbage slaw.

As a scallop lover I can never have enough scallops. The scallops were teamed with sweet corn, I rather like that combination however the scallops were slightly over seasoned for me. Also I couldnt say no to the Wagyu sliders, the patty was pink in the middle and served with peppercorn sauce.

As I was starting to fill up from the starters I tackled the main course slowly. My dining partner ordered the wild boar pappardelle, there was not much wild boar however but he happily ate it. Whilst I ordered the stone bass with clams in a creamy sauce, the fish was cooked just right and the sauce was fabulous. As I don’t like crispy skin on my fish this dish was totally for me.

The hospitality was great as Neighbourhood and I would return with Mr Nom. I just had a sneaky peak at the new menu and I know for sure I want to try the razor clam starter.

Neighbourhood on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday 18 September 2013

Feast, London

The street food scene in London has exploded in the last year bringing accessible quality food to the masses.  Two of the bigger street food events that we follow are Feast and Street Feast, each setting up temporarily residences wherever space allows.  It was the 1st birthday bash for Feast over the last weekend with two of our favourite street food vendors Bao London and Bob’s lobster taking part (both previously covered on the blog).  That was all the reason we needed to book a trip down to the Big Smoke.

The event was held in the Quadrangle car park of Guys Hospital by London Bridge.  An odd location but a good sized car park for the vendors with covered sitting and garden areas.  The weather forecast didn’t bode well for the Friday that we were attending and the rain progressively dropped harder and harder as the night wore on.  However this didn’t dampen ours or anyone else’s spirits it seems with most Feasters braving the rain to purchase food before diving back under the covered areas to consume and repeat.

One of the appealing aspects of the event was the lineup that was assembled, including Bao (fresh off their Young British Foodies Street Food 2013 award) and Bob’s lobster mentioned earlier other vendors included Flat Iron, Anna Maes, Check On, Bread Street Kitchen, Big Apple Hot Dogs, Patty and Bun, The Wright Brothers, Cinnamon Kitchen, Pizza Pilgrims, Albion, Little Rice Ball, Jose Pizarro, Clockjack Oven, Waffle On, Caravan, Paesan, Wiggies and Tamales amongst others.

Arriving there just after six when it opened for the evening we decided to go straight for Bao after a short stroll around the square.  It would prove to be an inspired decision as the queues from then on for the whole night were ridiculous; consistently ten deep even in the pouring rain.  The menu for Bao consisted of two items, the classic pork belly gua Bao and the ‘Heart Attack’ chicken Bao which was soya milk chicken fried on a deep fried bun.  We ordered one of each and being a Bao virgin, Mrs Nom was instantly converted with the pork belly Bao.  It gets better each time; I could eat a bucket of the braised pork belly.  The ‘Heart Attach’ Bao was also a delight, the deep fried bun reminded of a Chinese dim sum classic, the deep fried custard buns.  The chicken was still moist inside and the hot sauce finished it off nicely.  At £3.50 each I can’t think of a better snack for the same price.

We moved onto to Anna Maes and decided on the Piggy Smalls, mac n cheese topped with pulled pork, bbq sauce and pickled red onions, served with a mini bottle of tobacco sauce.  Billed as legendary mac n cheese it was good with quality cheese coating the macaroni.

Catching my eye next to Anna Maes was Bread Street Kitchen with its fried tamarind spice chicken wings flying out by the plate.  I couldn’t resist and ordered a portion and they were very tasty with the tamarind embedding into the skin and meat.  Next to Bao was revered chef Jose Pizarro and his offering of Iberica jamon with tomato bread.  The slivers of jamon oozed quality and the tomato topped bread was refreshing.

Steering clear of burgers as we’ve had too many lately with the latest being the ramen burger at Solita, Manchester the night before, there was a Patty and Bun offering which seemed quite tempting and pulled pork sliders at Wiggies.  To compensate I ordered a portion of pork crackling with rhubarb relish from Wiggies, they were certainly tough and crackly with glorious pork fat.  We noticed a stall selling unique rice balls and chose one of each, marinated salmon and wakame, and Japanese plum and miso pickled cucumber.  Whilst different we found them to be quite bland.

Moving on to desserts we had our eyes on a black forest waffle from Waffle On and the Eggs n Soldiers from Check On.  The black forest waffle came with poached cherries and a rich chocolate sauce that was very additive.  The Eggs n Soldiers were cute served in hallowed out egg shells with vanilla crème brulee and mango jelly with a shortbread finger.  Always a sucker for crème brulee they too were very additive and not too sweet.  Still feeling peckish we ordered a tried and trusted lobster roll from Bob’s lobster, this was packed with huge amounts of lobster meat and was as succulent as we had remembered it to be from before.  We headed off to nearby Hutong in the Shard after this as some rest bite from the rain.

We returned the next day in better weather for a quick snack before heading home and sneaked in another pork belly Bao.  We took the opportunity to introduce ourselves as the guys who Bao often retweet and were surprised that they remembered us as the couple who turned up last month at an event to find them shutting up shop early after selling out.  Next time we will definitely try and make it to the Bao Bar in Netil market which opens on Saturdays.  The tongue and crackling congee only available at the Bao Bar on the sit down menu seems particularly appealing.

We couldn’t look past the lobster mac n cheese from Bob’s again to fulfil our lobster cravings which are hard to satisfy in the North West.  The mac n cheese was filled with large chunks of lobster meat and swimming in a glorious lobster bisque, if only Bob’s was based in the North West we’d be there every week.  We had a nice chat to Rob, the owner who we had previously met at Borough Market, and it was staggering to find out that they were getting through a couple of hundred kilograms of lobster a day which meant some serious prep work. 

Feeling quite full after the mammoth lobster mac n cheese we were swayed by a sample of chicken from Clockjack Oven and decided to buy a portion for the train.  This was after a day full of eating so we didn’t manage to get through much in this brief visit.  We chose two roasted thighs which came with a ranch sauce and homemade slaw.  With our rotisserie chicken all bagged up (it turned into a tasty supper at home instead) we made our way to Euston to return home and plotted our trip to the next Feast.

Check out the Feast website for details of future events