Thursday 27 February 2014

Michael Caine's Restaurant, Manchester

Our last visit to Michael Caines at Abode Manchester was over two years ago. Seizing the opportunity for an indulgent lunch we returned last week. We initially wanted to try the grazing menu to create a mini lunch tasting menu but found that they do not offer it anymore and there is a standard set lunch or a la carte offering instead. At £14.95 for 2 courses and £19.95 for 3 courses it seemed decent value for the set lunch option.

Arriving unannounced the restaurant was around half full. The lighting seems brighter than it did during our last visit which we found to be a bit dark. Needing to rush back to work we quickly decided on our choices and the starters were soon delivered. The rillete of salmon with keta, cucumber, honey and soy vinaigrette was a very attractive plate of food. Each little blob added a different flavour to the salmon. 

The ox cheek raviolo, shallot and horseradish confit, button onions and beef jus won the dish of the meal. Packed full of flavour it was a real winner. So far so good it seemed.

The mains however did not deliver the same wow factor as the starters and although perfectly acceptable expectations were high at this point. Mrs Nom chose pan fried sea bream, bacon and maple syrup puree, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. I settled on pork belly, spiced red cabbage, fondant potato with pork jus.

We skipped desserts as nothing took our fancy on the set menu, what started out as a great lunch fizzled out from the mains.

A little bonus in this post, it made sense to add notes from our visit to MC Cafe Bar & Grill casual dining offering at the Abode hotel. We visited a while back pre Christmas opting for the set early bird menu (its expensive this eating out lark). The choices were not vast and Mrs Nom ordered her starter of duck salad from the a la carte instead while I settled on the ham hock terrine. Apologies if the pictures are a bit sketchy but the lighting was extremely dark.

The main courses were generous Winter warmers of mutton hot pot with braised cabbage and a fish pie packed full of salmon, prawns and white fish. The mutton pieces were tender and the sweet and fiery red cabbage was a delight.  However the sauce was a bit thin and would have brought the whole dish together if it was a little thicker. The fish pie had so much filling that I had to polish it off for Mrs Nom who struggled.

The fish pie didn't stop Mrs Nom wanting a dessert though and we shared a brioche pudding with ice cream.

Michael Caine's Restaurant at Abode on Urbanspoon
MC Cafe Bar & Grill - Manchester on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday 23 February 2014

Stripped Back - Ben Spalding @ Camp & Furnace, Liverpool

One of the hottest tickets arguably in the last year in London's street food scene is the Stripped Back concept created by Ben Spalding. Defined on its Twitter account as refined street food cooked with raw passion & obsessive dedication anywhere, anytime. Following stints at Fat Duck, Le Manoir and Roganic, Stripped Back takes good food and makes it enjoyable in ultra relaxed settings.

I've been an avid follower of Stripped Back at Street Feast but could never arrange a visit to London which coincided with one of the sessions. So when I saw a tweet promoting the welcome of Stripped Back at Camp & Furnace there was never a doubt and I made the booking straight away. No excuses with Camp & Furnace being a mile away from home! As far as venues go, Camp & Furnace and Stripped Back go hand in hand. Set in the main room alongside a Food Slam, Ben and team must of felt right at home with Rockaoke on at the far end of the room and food stalls lining the sides. Similar to Street Feast venues with DJs, albeit a little more rugged than Camp & Furnace. Props to the Camp & Furnace guys for making this happen and bringing the brightest talents to Liverpool.

We arrived early ahead of the second sitting and were trying desperately not to take sneaky peeks at the food being served. The Stripped Back and Camp & Furnace teams took turns delivering alternate courses and are coloured coded below black for the hosts and red for the guests.

The first courses were small nibbles. Swine Orgy - pig skin & jelly, tom yum mayonnaise, Japanese spices.

Salt 'N' Vinegar - salt 'n' vinegar celery, potato crisps

B&B - sourdough, hackney wild, sweet & salty Lincolnshire poacher. The bread and butter course, forget the usual unsalted, salted, beef dripping etc this simply took it to another level. The sweet & salty Lincolnshire poacher prepared in front of us and finished off with a blowtorch was hugely additive.

Scallop - caramelised, blue cheese, buttermilk, nettle, pickled squash.

Salad '40' - 40 ingredient salad with sour cream. There was a short wait between the last dish and this, understandable given its contents. We watched and waited patiently and Chef placed, flicked, spooned and sprinkled the array of ingredients onto the line of plates.

The finished article. There was so much going on that every mouthful introduced new elements.

The list of ingredients in full!

Cheek - pomelo puree, shallots, crispy wild rice, thyme, morcilla. 

Salmon Belly - cured salmon belly, peanut butter, preserved grapes, cucumber juice. The simplest but a surprisingly effective dish. The peanut butter matched well with the salmon and the cucumber juice was refreshing and cleansed the palate.

Curd - goats curd, hot vimto, basil, biscuit. The hot vimto being soaked into the biscuit was inspired, the simplest Camp & Furnace dish but my favourite.

Rainbow - plum, lemon, strawberry, chocolate, wasabi, buckthorn, orange, beetroot, M&Ms. A pretty dessert that concluded the dishes from team Stripped Back.

Honey - soup, comb, pollen, milk, rhubarb.

A great night and it was great to see an inspirational Chef at work. Hopefully next time Chef Ben Spalding returns to Liverpool we will get to see his No Rules concept where he is challenged to incorporate ingredients from diners into the meal. Thanks to the Camp & Furnace team for making this happen and heres hoping to many more top class food events over the rest of the year!

Camp and Furnace on Urbanspoon

Saturday 22 February 2014

The Glasshouse, Kew

On a recent work away job we took the opportunity to visit some outer London restaurants. One of which was The Glasshouse in Kew which holds one Michelin star. It caught my attention with its menu which reads very well. The menu is a set price affair of £42.50 for three courses with supplements for some dishes with premium ingredients. It reminded me of Medlar, a favourite of mine.

The star of the starters was the rabbit raviolo with parmesan veloute, tarragon and pickled mushrooms. It surprised me how big it was and I had food envy when I tasted a bit of the dish packed with well matched flavours.

Grilled mackerel with oyster tempura, cucumber relish, oyster mayonnaise and ponzu. This was well received although I didn't get to try any.

My starter was seared loch duart salmon with mussels, saffron, root vegetables and curried shellfish sauce. I made a rookie error when I realised that the fish was cooked well all the way through as the menu said seared. Probably the least inspiring of all the starters. The sauce failed to lift the bland salmon.

Duck breast with seared foie gras, chestnuts, roast potatoes, sprouts and cranberries was my choice of main. All of the individual components was well cooked as you would expect from a Michelin starred establishment. The cranberries added acidity to the dish and added interest to the duck and foie gras. A simple concept but a little lacking on the flavour front overall.

Rump of beef with swiss chard, hand cut chips, roasted parsley root and red wine sauce.

Stone bass with soft shell crab, black rice, ginger, braised bok choy and asian coconut broth. The soft shell crab was well received and the coconut broth proved to be a good accompaniment to to the fish and rice.

Apple tarte fine with caramel sauce and stem ginger ice cream. My choice of dessert was underwhelming when it arrived as I had missed the fine in the description, being a greedy guts I was expecting a big slab of tart packed full of apples. The ice cream made up for my disappointment though.

Valrhona chocolate mousse with milk ice cream, honey tuile and iced coffee. Probably the pick of the desserts with the mousse being wonderfully balanced between sweet and bitter.

Burnt vanilla cream with poached rhubarb, champagne foam and pistachio biscotti.

Simple concepts with acceptable execution was the general consensus of the table. Nothing really knocked our socks off. The restaurant also remained quiet throughout our visit which was surprising. The restaurant is part of a group with fellow starred restaurants La Trompette and Chez Bruce which serve up similar style food.

Glasshouse on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday 10 February 2014

Lunya, Liverpool

Lunya is a restaurant based on College Lane within Liverpool One, serving up Catalan cuisine with some dishes paying homage to the Scouse link. It has recommended in the Good Food Guide since 2011. There are many strong tapas offerings in the city in Neon Jamon and Salt House Tapas and we wanted to complete the set with Lunya which seems to get rave reviews.

We visited one lunchtime and took advantage of the lunchtime offer of 3 tapas and bread for £10.75. Dishes we picked included:

Piquillo pepper stuffed with Bonito tuna, creamed cheese, parsley and cornichons. Whilst sounding interesting we were dissapointed when presented with a lone pepper with a filling not disimilar to tuna mayonnaise. Not the best start.

The 18month cured Trevelez Serrano ham fared much better, a quality ham given the price.

A locally inspired dish of Catalan scouse with Morcilla and chorizo. This was Mrs Nom's first scouse, sadly it was too thick and gloopy and was in much need of more sauce.

Lamb tagine with cous cous and yoghurt. The lamb was moist and well flavoured.

Gambas pil pil with chilli garlic and vanilla, we were surprised to see they were served with the shells removed, I suppose it made it easier for us to eat it but I prefer the shells intact for the flavour. The addition of the vanilla was interesting.

Confit chicken wings with a spicy mojo picon sauce, probably the best dish of the lot with well cooked chicken wings and a punchy sauce.

For our first experience of Lunya it didn't quite live up to the hype for us, maybe the full a la carte menu would fair better. Service also seemed to be an issue with only one waitress taking orders and handling bills whilst the others were only allowed to clear tables so the wait at the end was a bit lengthy.

Lunya on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday 9 February 2014

Volta, Didsbury

We visited Volta as it was approaching the end of January, eager to take advantage of the January 50% off food promotion. Volta is based on the former site of Rhubarb on Burton Road, which is packed with a range of good eateries.

The menu is quite short with a range of small and larger plates. We like the idea of small plates, as it gives us a chance to try more dishes. We started with smoked feta, beetroot, hazelnuts and dill, a vibrant plate with the beetroot puree, nice textures however we couldn’t quite taste the smoky notes from the feta.

Sea bass, fine beans and olive tapenade is a safe combination yet tasty dish. However the sea bass didn't seem the freshest as it was rather fishy.

We have never tried haggis before but we loved this, big deep fried patties of haggis which were packed with flavour. We thoroughly enjoyed this dish and the mash accompaniment. 

The smell of lemon on the lamb chops along with the spices filled the air, Mrs Nom couldn’t wait to tuck into the meaty and fatty lamb chops, and they delivered in taste and were well cooked.

Negroni cured salmon, fennel and orange salad with the sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. It was quite a chunky piece of fish but the salmon was slightly bland.

The dish of the night was undoubtedly the Dexter rib on the bone. A fantastic piece of steak, perfectly cooked medium rare and the chips were great and fluffy in the middle.

We also ordered the bone marrow dish from the specials board but unfortunately one of the two marrow bones was rather large and wasn't roasted through to melt the marrow. The staff handled this well and took it off the bill. 

By now we were full to the brim but desserts were calling. We ordered the chocolate pot and brandy and raisin ice cream served with an expresso shot for pouring over the ice cream. Perhaps we should of picked some lighter desserts but they were a good sweet ending to the meal.

The venue quickly filled and the bar was packed to the rafters when we left with plently of people waiting for tables for food. We like Volta for trying to be new with some great ideas and dishes, whilst others need tweaking but the steak is a must try at a shade under £20. Its better than steaks at some specialised 'Grill' restaurants at a more wallet friendly price.

Volta on Urbanspoon