In the week that Noma belatedly gained a third Michelin star after years of accolades for transforming the way we look at the food on our plate and how we source the raw materials it seems entirely of the moment to be talking low intervention wines with one of its alumni.
No, not on the Refshaleøen waterfront in Copenhagen, where chef Rene Radzepi works his culinary magic; our view is of New Islington Marina, extension of Manchester’s own hip enclave, Ancoats. Dan Craig Martin is the curator of the wine offering at Flawd, latest arrival on Marina Promenade. Originally from Oregon, Dan spent three years working at Noma.
Crucially he was previously at Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant in upstate New York – the farm to table crucible where the Joseph Otway/Richard Cossins project, Higher Ground, was forged. Richard was general manager at Stone Barns when fellow Brit Joe arrived as fish chef.
In 2020 Higher Ground sprang up in Manchester as a residency in the Kampus development. Here’s my Manchester Confidential review, which also unravels the partners’ CVs that include America, London, Copenhagen and Stockport.
After further peripatetic pop-ups their eyes are on a permanent restaurant site in the NOMA (the acronym is catching) district near Victoria Station, probably next year. Higher Ground has benefited from keeping their terrific team intact too – the likes of Meg and Chris.
The gang are all together at self-styled neighbourhood wine bar Flawd. Awkward name for a destination that decidedly isn’t. OK, the lack of an extractor fan means there’s no cooking on the premises. So expect assemblies of produce grown at Cinderwood, a Cheshire market garden they are partners in or platters of British cheeses and charcuterie with bread from neighbours Pollen Bakery, naturally.
Not just any charcuterie, mind. It’s sourced from Curing Rebels in Brighton, up there with the UK’s best producers of cured, fermented and smoked treats. The £12 plate on the menu for my visit featured salami, smoked sausage and coppa. So perfect to share a bottle of wine over with a view of barges and wildfowl (oh and the odd steepling apartment block in the distance).
I warmed immediately both to the wines and ciders on Flawd’s shelves, to drink in or take away, and to new partner Dan’s approach to specialising in ‘low intervention’. It’s no secret that natural wine apostles can turn into zealots, given consumer resistance. Here the choice, with affordable wines by the glass too, is much more welcoming.
Natural wines will always be a broad church. Some wines will be a challenge to traditional, maybe hidebound palates, but there’s so much to convert you with proper advice from Dan. We share a love of less alcoholic Loire reds from Cabernet Franc and Gamay grapes. Among the most vibrant vignerons in the region is biodynamic champion Thierry Germain, marrying a modern approach to tradition (he uses both shire horses horses and specially light quad bikes in the vineyards). His Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny is £37 to drink in and at £28 to carry out. I couldn’t resist the latter.
To accompany a trio of dishes I was recommended a red from Northern Spain that combined old favourite grape Mencia with a dash of Palomino, white grape best known for sherry. Fascinating and very drinkable.
Each of the dishes showed the value of Cinderwood. This one acre biologically intensive market garden in Poole, Cheshire, is based on the regenerative, organic principles championed by Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in a quest for the best possible flavours
Under grower Michael Fitzsimmons, Cinderwood is supplying an increasing number of Manchester’s best places to eat, including 10 Tib Lane, Elnecot and The Creameries, which all share a similar ethos. Flawd, though, benefits from a daily supply chain, on which they base a swiftly changing menu.
What also cheers me is the presence of ‘signature’ ingredients that featured in that first Kampus tasting menu – the likes of smoked cod roe, Tropea onions, sea buckthorn.
Rings of Tropea, that intense red onion originally from Calabria, join an ox heart crumble in a sweet/savoury jumble on the freshest ice queen lettuce, another Italian ‘expatriate’ variety
Wafer-thin slices of courgette come dotted with Morecambe Bay shrimp in an elderflower dressing; even prettier and mouth-tingling is a dish where almost transparent discs of cucumber are coated in (the acceptable face of taramsalata) an emulsion of smoke cod roe and garnished with strips of lemony sorrel.
Most of the small dishes range in price from a fiver to £8. Seated next to the pass with Joe hard at work, the most popular dishes on the night appeared to be smoked salmon with Manchester sea buckthorn hot sauce and Lancaster Smokehouse mackerel on toast.
Of the new ventue Joe has said: “We really just want to open a neighbourhood wine bar for the growing New Islington community, to create a space for people to drink great wine, relax and have fun. Treat it as an ideal destination for an after-work drink, an aperitivo before dinner, or a few drinks before a night out in surrounding Ancoats or the Northern Quarter.”
I think it’s going to be hugely popular and I’m looking forward to a proper investigation of its bottleshop shelves. Still, it feels a product of canny expediency, a stepping stone towards a full restaurant experience Higher Ground. Now that would lift the spirits for 2022. Joseph Otway cooking on gas again!
Flawd, Unit 3, Mansion House, Marina Promenade, New Islington, M4 6JL. Wine bar hours: Wed/Thu/Sun: 5pm-11pm; Fri/Sat: 5pm-11:30pm. Bottle shop hours: Wed/ Thu/Sun: 12pm-11pm; Fri/Sat: 12pm-11:30pm. Main image left to right: Richard, Meg, Joe, Dan and Chris.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
This is the (literally) groundbreaking project of farm to table guru/chef Dan Barber. With a messianic zeal, his book The Third Plate: Field Notes for the Future of Food (Abacus) champions organic flavour-driven produce as a meal focus. Shift to fewer slabs of protein, elevate the finest quality veg and grains to centre stage, respect the earth is the message. To see what can be achieved on the plate, check out series one, episode two of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
Natural Wine primers
I’d suggest two books by Alice Fiering – Natural Wine for the People (Ten Speed Press) and The Dirty Guide To Wine (Countryman Press), the latter in conjunction with Pascaline Lepetiere. Less terroir hardcore and covering organic and biodynamic producers is Wine Revolution (Jacqui Small) by Jane Anson.