The Manchester Rum Festival 2022 is on my birthday. Saturday, June 18. No need to bake a cake then – unless it’s laced with an abundance of Plantation Pineapple or the like.

Last year’s event, the fifth, was a gas. The city was awash with thousands of Pride revellers, all just glad to flash the rainbow after months of crossing their legs in lockdown. Not that the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly was some sedate refuge from party central. The rum flowed. As it will again next June, pandemics permitting – at the same venue.

I was so happy to touch base with producers I’d met before in the Caribbean, Colorado or even up on Manchester’s Red Bank. So much jollier than those commercial suburban gin rallies which end with couples just a tonic short of oblivion.

My preview for this website was on the global  peripatetic side. No need to be blase. In 2022 I’m going to be introduced to world’s biggest-selling rum in Tanduay from the Philippines and local newcomers Tameside Distillers. Debuts for Streamertail from Jamaica and Trinidad and Scratch (from tropical Hertfordshire) are also confirmed by festival organiser Dave Marsland. No idea but I’m willing to give them a sip. Whatever, live dangerously. Buy tickets here.

Salford Rum pop-up

Meanwhile, if you are feeling ‘rum-bunctuous’, there’s a Christmas-themed bar from the Salford Rum Company called Bar Rumbug, launching on Thursday, December 2. It’s located at their forthcoming Dirty Old Town Distillery and rum garden at Arch 33 on Viaduct Street, Salford and will be open throughout December, Wednesdays to Sundays (12pm-12am). 

The atmosphere will be eclectic at the upcoming Red Bank Festive Trail, the only slightly off the beaten track antidote to the fake jollity and craven rapacity of Manchester Christmas Markets. As 2021 draws to its uncertain close it has never been more important to support the city’s independents and I can’t think of any more indie stretch than the arches above the ‘Green Quarter’ (but don’t get me started on that nomenclature).

Contributing to the Festive Trail celebrations (Saturday December 4, 12pm-6pm) are The Spärrows, Blackjack Brewery, Beatnikz Republic, Popup Bikes, Base Bar, Runaway Brewery, Chapeltown Picture House, GFFdamian Dance Studio and admirable street food champions GRUB, who are the very definition of grass roots.

I’ve been along for the rollercoaster ride with founders Jason and Juliana Bailey from the start back in 2014 across a variety of pop-ups and venues, with a constantly shifting roster of vendors they have supported and mentored. It’s great to see them in a permanent home  now at the top of Red Bank – its bar, events space and street food garden a beacon of sustainability. 

In a Manchester scene where corporate developers pay lip service to ‘street food’ and ‘artisans’, hosting them for fixed terms to give cool cachet to their building schemes, GRUB is the real deal.

This Saturday afternoon may offer a promenade of brewery tours, live music, dance performances, street food, cinema screenings, fresh produce stalls and a record fair, but such vitality is not a one-off thanks to an eclectic (that word again) calendar of events and fairs GRUB generates. I recently attended a packed wine and cheese matching at their Red Bank HQ featuring Reserve Wines and Chorlton Cheesemongers.

GRUB have led the way in plant-based promotion, so no surprise to see they are hosting a 100 per cent Vegan New Year’s Party.


The Baileys’ events company also reaches out across the region in collaborations. Its latest project epitomises their approach. Following their major reopening earlier this year, Contact performing arts venue on Oxford Road has sought to reenergise its catering. 

GRUB have recruited for them a street food chef to watch – Michael Anderson, owner and creator of Tikka Chance On Me. Describing himself as “a gobby Irish Mancunian with a big belly and an even bigger mouth who loves life and lives to eat”, he quit his day job in 2019 and has since been creating ‘Northern’ dishes inspired by Indian ingredients, until recently from an Ardwick base. To match his culinary creations at Contact beers will be local, cocktails from the GRUB team. Opening hours will be 10am-8pm Monday-Friday, 12pm-8pm Saturday.

GRUB, The Red Bank Project, 50 Red Bank, Manchester, M4 4HF. Wednesday-Friday 4pm-10pm, Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm.

It has been an epic journey across time and space and I’m understandably nervous when I encounter a scribbled sign at the picket gate into the Brewery of St Mars of the Desert. Private function today? Shut by Covid scare?

Phew. ‘Please don’t let Grimbold the dog out’ with a silhouette of the jet black bundle of fun I get to pat once I step across the ‘Welcome To Mars’ threshold. Fun is a good word, indeed, for everything that greets me inside this colourful cottage of a taproom. My benchmate, who budges up for me, recommends the ‘SMODFEST’ Festbier for its soft maltiness, continental hop character and absence of excess carbonation that can bedevil a lager. 

OK, I’ve made him more eloquent than he was. Yet it is a great introduction to SMOD, who specialise in “hoppy koelship beers, foeder-soured stingos, rustic lagers, deep malty dark beers and Benelux-inspired creations”, according to their website. Koelship? Pronounced cool ship, it’s a long, slender, open top stainless steel vessel akin to those traditional Flemish/Dutch koelschips, originally made of wood, whose high surface-to-mass ratio allows for more efficient cooling of the wort in the brewing process. Won’t go into more detail – this is a nerd-free zone.

It’s the centrepiece of a modest scale brewing operation behind the taproom, where SMOD co-owners Dann Paquette and Martha Simpson-Holley, plus apprentice Scarlet, produce some splendidly niche and nuanced beers in the old industrial district of Attercliffe, surrounded by ranks of contemporary factories/depots.

Not the easiest place to get to, hence my ‘epic journey’ lead-off. On my last adventure in Sheffield my last port of call was meant to be here but my phone charge went dead and no local could guide me, even though I was within a couple of hundred metres. Even this this time, on a trek from a tram halt, I feel rudderless.

Once I arrive, then, I am in no hurry to leave, sampling in turn Clamp Koelship IPA, hazy and hoppy yet like all the beers very clean, Koel It! Jingly Bells, all my Christmases come early with oodles of hops married to a festive fruitiness and, finally, The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Dann and Martha’s ‘tribute to the original craft brewers of Belgium’. Artisan or what?

At 8 per cent, Frogs, a dark special brune, outmuscles the 6.3 per cent Mice, a Flanders golden bitter, but it is also smoother, fruitier and more complex. According to the SMOD beer menu it is “brewed with a recreation of the water profile of West Flanders”. Now that is an attention to detail.

Bizarrely, when the globally influential RateBeer site announced its 10 Best New Breweries in the World 2020, two of the three British breweries named had this Belgian resonance (SMOD and, understandably, Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire) and two had American founders/brewers (SMOD and Suffolk’s Duration, incidentally many of whose ales are farmhouse and saison, too).

Bostonian Dann met North Yorkshire lass Martha across the Pond and the pair ran the acclaimed Pretty Things brewery for eight years before embarking on peripatetic journeys across Asia and Europe. Along the way they fell in love with a smallholding near a village called Saint-Mars-du-Désert in France’s Pays de la Loire region, named after an eighth century hermit. 

Maybe but for the prospect of Brexit they might have set up there; after considering Leeds and Manchester they went for Sheffield and took the monastic moniker with them. After all it was monks who first consolidated the brewing industry.

The pair’s fascinating story is recounted in a Pellicle online magazine piece by Matt Curtis,  ‘Everything in its right place and SMOD is a featured brewery in his recently published Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99). Read my review here.

It’s not just about the beer, though. The taproom faithful are a civilised lot, Dann and Martha host it all with real warmth and Grimbold is irrepressible.

St Mars had been on my radar since its inception in 2018. My yearning to visit has since become a catalyst for discovering a Sheffield beyond my Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker affiliations. This time around I was smitten by the diversity and raw vitality of The Moor Market and found Cutlery Works the most relaxing street food hall I’ve ever visited.


Chicken livers, gizzards and hearts are all the same price – 90p a pound. The adjacent pig’s feet are priceless (in a nose to tail photoshoot way). Across the aisle a specialist Persian food stall offers ingredients I’ve only ever read about in Sabrina Ghayour or Yasmin Khan. On one fish stall I encounter a sturdy carp, not seen on most slabs. There is tripe and various intestinal siblings, feathered, ungutted game birds and a whole, skinned rabbit still defrosting I enquire about, to be told “it’s French, farmed, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the English, wild, fresh.” I loved all this from the moment I walked into find a fine bottle shop, Beer Central, to welcome me.

The building is less than a decade old, cost £18m and includes 200 market stalls and eight shops. Situated off a pedestrian precinct rammed with every high street name you can think of, what a relief to discover this haven of independent traders, offering an affordable, browsable, diverse alternative to control freak supermarkets. 

Its main northern rival, Leeds Market, benefits from its Victorian monumentality and better dining-in opportunities, but Sheffield’s really is hard to beat. Obviously not in comparison with the great markets of Spain, Barcelona’s Boqueria or Valencia’s Modernista-style Mercado Central. They reflect a whole different food culture. It has been interesting, though, to tick off across the Iberian peninsula the rise of markets morphing into food halls – in Bilbao, Madrid, Seville and notably Lisbon’s waterfront Time Out Market.


That Lisbon operation is a showcase for the city’s Michelin-starred chefs. Sheffield’s stand-out food hall is an altogether more modest affair despite its claims to be the North’s largest. Set in a converted cutlery factory, in the post-industrial corridor that stretches out from Kelham Island, Cutlery Works offers 13 different vendors across two floors, ranging from China Red’s Szechuan sizzlers to chocolate counter Bullion and coffee roasters Foundry, taking in Thai, pizza, fried chicken, burgers, sushi and Mexican along the way.

Foundry provide bottomless batch coffee for freelancers taking advantage between 9am and 5pm of designated co-working spaces with plug sockets and 10 per cent food discounts. All very cool and relaxing in my mid-afternoon slot, it lacked the buzz of Manchester’s Mackie Mayor, which I still love – despite my general weariness with the whole food hall experience. 

The Guardian restaurant critic Grace Dent summed it up nicely: “I need to ask a very honest question here: are food halls ever a truly satisfying dining experience? I’ve no doubt they seem so on paper and in the marketing meetings, they’re fantastic for filling old, unloved but historically important spaces and they’re good news for downward-spiralling city centres. Yet in reality they’re noisy, unrelaxing and the food is often patchy, with the occasional gem hidden among the colossal choice of menus.”

That was in last month’s review of the GPO in Liverpool, as the name suggests, a post office repurposed into a food hall. She was unimpressed by Nama, a Japanese small fish plates counter, created by Luke French and Stacey Sherwood-French of Sheffield big hitter Jöro (my restaurant review here), who have also transferred their other new venture Konjö.

The original of this Korean-influenced, fire-based “Robatayaki” Kitchen was my choice at Cutlery Works. It’s the first vendor on the left as you reach the first floor – preferable to the ground floor if only because it boasts the proper craft beer bar, Boozehound.

I spent £30 at Konjö, mainly because I over-ordered in my eagerness (and a desire for ballast ahead of my beer destination). Don’t expect a spin-off from Jöro down the road. There’s no comparable finesse. And yet my combo was hugely enjoyable. A duck bao was basically a take on the old Peking/hoisin sauce stalwart while chilli beef was sticky and punchy. Sides of subtle kimchi and refreshing sesame greens provided perfect balance ahead of my journey  to Mars.

Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert, 90 Stevenson Rd, Sheffield S9 3XG. The taproom is normally open Fridays and Saturdays 2pm-8pm.

Cutlery Work, 73-101 Neepsend Lane, Neepsend, Sheffield S3 8AT. Open Sunday-Thursday, 10am-10pm; Friday-Saturday 10am-11pm.

I’ve been taken to task for snubbing a potato dumpling. So cepelinai, I belatedly salute you. Russian pelmeni, Polish pierogi and all manner of Alpine/Italian cousins were spotlighted in a recent piece of mine on noodles and dumplings.

Absent, because I’ve never tasted it, was Lithuania’s national dish. Literally it means zeppelins because their shape resembles the rigid airship developed by Graf von Zeppelin at the turn of the 20th century.

Didžkukuliai was the original name for these sizeable dumplings made from grated and riced potatoes stuffed with ground meat, dry curd cheese or mushrooms. After boiling, the cepelinai (pronounced sep-elle-in-ay) are often served with sour cream sauce or pork rinds, apparently. I’m still seeking a restaurant that serves them; no hope of unearthing another traditional fave, deep-fried crow meat, on any menu soon.

In common with all Eastern European and Baltic states, Lithuania has a vast appetite for potatoes. In the global spud league table it trails troubled Belarus, but an annual average consumption of 100kg per capita is mightily impressive, some three times the world average. Few dishes are unique to one country. Similar to cepelinai are pyzi in neighbouring Poland, Norwegian raspeball, the Acadian poutine râpée in Canada and from Germany Kartoffelklöße.

It’s a sign of the times that the Lithuanians are developing lighter versions of their centuries-old signature dish.

Soured cream and bacon bits decorate a traditional dish of cepelinai

A release from Lithuania Travel informs me: “Cepelinai used to be the perfect hearty meal delivering the necessary energy that our predecessors needed to endure the cold climate while working the fields. The times have changed, so has Lithuanian cuisine: over the last few decades, the local chefs have introduced foreign flavours to cepelinai and have transformed it to a healthy everyday dinner or lunch option.” Fillings now range from buckwheat to cottage cheese and mint, carrot and hemp seed.

New fillings are everywhere – upmarket Burna House in the capital Vilnius recommend their pulled duck and offer a pink dough version, using beetroot, another Lithuanian favourite. See the recipe below, but first a simpler more trad version… 

Lithuanian cepelinai 

Serves four


400g waxy potatoes; a beaten egg; one diced shallot; 250g minced pork; ½tsp ground caraway; one crushed garlic clove; 1tbsp plain flour plus extra for dusting

For the sauce:2tbsp dried porcini; 1tsp butter; two diced shallots; 200g sliced mushrooms; 200g crème fraîche.

To serve: two rashers smoked streaky bacon; chopped dill.


Divide the potatoes into two batches. Chop one batch into chunks and boil for 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain and mash. Finely grate the remaining spuds and tip into a bowl lined with a tea towel. Squeeze tightly to expel any liquid; keep 2tbsp of this juice and discard the rest. In another large mixing bowl, add the reserved potato juice, the grated potato, mashed potato and half the beaten egg. Beat everything together, seasonand leave to cool, then chill while you prepare the filling.

Mix together the shallot, minced pork, caraway seeds, garlic, remaining egg with salt and pepper. Now blend 1tbsp of flour into your potato mixture and divide into 8. Flour a work surface and lightly shape the potato dough into flat round patties, approximately 1cm thick. Put 1 heaped tsp of the pork filling in the middle of each one, then gently encase the pork and form a dumpling. Roll them in your hands to achieve the signature zeppelin shape. Repeat with the rest of the patties and filling. Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer. Gently lower in the dumplings, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes. The water must not boil or they might start to disintegrate.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp, then chop into small dice and set aside. To make the sauce, pour 100ml of boiling water over the dried porcini and leave to stand for five minutes. In a saucepan, heat the butter and add the shallots, frying gently until they are soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes more. When they are cooked, pour in 1tbsp of the liquor from the porcini and discard the rest. Chop the porcini and add them. Fold in the crème fraîche, bring to a simmer, then season.

To serve, place two dumplings on each plate and pour over the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle the dill and bacon pieces over just before serving. 

Burna House Pink Cepelinai with Curd ‘Raudonieji Cepelinukai su Varške’

Serves four 


For the potato mixture: 800g raw blended potatoes; 300g fresh potatoes (peeled); 100g finely chopped onions; 60g milk; 60g butter; 250g fresh beetroot juice; 40g potato starch

For the stuffing: 400g cottage cheese; 2g fresh tarragon; 40g soured cream.

For the white wine sauce with sundried tomatoes and capers: 400g heavy cream; 100g dry white wine; 80g sundried tomatoes; 10g capers; 5g cornstarch; 15g salt; 10g fresh thyme; 20g cooking oil

For garnish: chopped dill, spring onions and parsley; black pepper.


Cook the freshly peeled potatoes in salted water and drain them. Heat the milk until it starts boiling, add it to the potatoes along with the butter. Mash until smooth. Mix the mashed potatoes with the raw blended potatoes and the beetroot juice. Add 5g  salt

For the stuffing mix the cottage cheese with the tarragon, sour cream, and 3g salt.

To form a single cepelinas take 50g of the potato mixture and pat it flat in the palm of the hand. Place 20g of the stuffing in the centre and, using slightly dampened hands, fold the potato mixture around the cottage cheese stuffing into a zeppelin shape, sealing well.

Mix 2.5 litres of water with the beetroot juice and bring it to a boil. Gently lower the cepelinai into the boiling water and juice mixture and cook for 15 minutes on low-to-medium heat.

For the sauce saute the onions on some cooking oil until golden brown. Add the wine and fresh thyme. Cook for 7-10 minutes until the alcohol evaporates. Add the cream, bring it to a slow boil and simmer for 15 more minutes on a low heat. Add the sundried tomatoes and the capers and bring it to a boil. To thicken the sauce, add the cornstarch.

Serve the cepelinaiwith the white wine sauce and garnish with fresh dill, spring onions, ground black pepper, and parsley.

Consume while watching Part Two of Jonathan Meades’ BBC polemic travelogue, Magnetic North (find it on YouTube), which features The Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site in Northern Lithuania. Dating back to the 1831 Uprising, this small hill in the middle of farmland holds up to 100,000 crosses of all sizes, from tiny wooden crosses to huge handcrafted metal specimens. Destroyed several times and suppressed by the Soviets, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a symbol of the nation’s tenacious survival. Christians from across the world flock to pay homage, but it also eerily reflects Lithuania’s unquestionably pagan roots. 

I’d love to visit one day, first having feasted on didžkukuliai and Midus Lituanian Mead, naturally. And if you also plan to go down the fried crow route here’s a full-feathered report from the rather wonderful meateater website.

Many thanks to Lithuania Travel, Burna House, Vilnius and Andrius Aleksandravičius for the cepelinai images.

There was a time when Hay on Wye was not the gentrified Borders outpost of Bloomsbury and Notting Hill it is today after 30 years of Literature Festivals. When we hung around there a lot in the Seventies it had become the burgeoning ‘Book Town’ with up to 40 bookshops following in the footsteps of ‘King’ Richard Booth, who declared ‘home rule’ from Hay Castle in 1977.

Yet on market days it still felt the fiefdom of rough-hewn farmer folk from the Black Hills, their Welsh lilt heard in both stony chapel and smoky pub. The latter served a decent pint of Draught Bass is you were lucky, but some of the Welsh ales were thinner than sheep’s piss.

We were rescued in that same year,’ 77, by word of a new brewery – Penrhos. Its beers could apparently be found in the Llanthony Priory Hotel 12 miles south of Hay. A daunting quest, though, in our Citroën 2CV. The route is over the Gospel Pass, at 1,800ft the highest in Wales and heart-stopping both for its beauty and its narrow bends. 

They were serving the Penhros Bitter by hand pull in the tiny bar of the hotel next to the ruined 12th century monastic remains. We had negotiated an overnight stay in the turret room. En suite it wasn’t – just a water jug for our ablutions and steep spiral staircases to the pissoir. It was to prove a hazardous schlepp with a torch in the wake of copious samples of the nectar. Honeyed and pure, ‘nectar’ was for once appropriate. 

Next pilgrimage would be to the pioneering microbrewery responsible. It would take us a similar distance north of Hay into the heart of Herefordshire cider country to an organic project scattered with the stardust of Monty Python star Terry Jones’s involvement. A very naughty brewer?

You wonder what has brought on this à la Recherche de Penhros Perdu nostalgia? The sheer serendipity of an obit in Opening Times, one of the best CAMRA regional mags. Part of the reason, when the November/December issue dropped, I turned to the appreciation of Tony Allen first was that my nurse daughter had looked after him in his last days. She liked the man as much as I liked the pale and hoppy beers he crafted at his Phoenix Brewery at Heywood near Rochdale.

Penrhos apparently inspired him to become an independent brewer. He was working for Bass in Runcorn in 1980 when he read an article by Richard Boston, who promoted the resurgence of real ale in his Guardian column as well as editing his own eccentric eco mag, Vole, funded by Jones. The pair had now apparently joined with a certain Martin Griffiths to launch their own tiny brewery. Not the regular occurrence it is today.

Tony was hooked by the Penrhos aim to make a small amount of top quality beer. So he persuaded them to let him travel down on his four Bass rest days each month to help with the brewing. Indeed he had a hand in the creation of Penrhos Porter, reviving a dark beer style that had almost died out.

Penrhos Court its last legs in 1971 when Griffiths paid just £5,000 for the near derelict 15th century manor house at Lyonshall near Kington and embarked on a Sisyphean 30 year restoration project.There was still a mountain of work ahead when we visited to sample the beer and eat at the organic restaurant, the first to be Soil Association accredited, created by his wife, nutritional crusader Daphne Lambert. I still have her inspirational 2001 cookbook, Little Red Gooseberries based on what she taught in her cookery school.

We were familiar with the area, drawn by the traditional cider revivalism of the late Ivor Dunkerton along the road in Pembridge. The Cider Barn there is in the safe hands of the next Dunkerton generation; Griffiths and Lambert have been gone from Penrhos a decade and it is now a luxurious holiday home complex with an attractive cafe. 

A far cry, though, from its maverick heyday when it hosted the likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen (they rehearsed a soon-to-be-recorded Bohemian Rhapsody there) and Mike ‘Tubular Bells’ Oldfield, who lived six miles away on Hergest Ridge. Al Gore visited too. All must have been smitten by the glorious banqueting hall with a minstrel’s gallery and crux beams.

Less spectacular was the cattle byre that serial brewery builder Peter Austin converted into the Penrhos brewery. He had been enlisted by Griffiths, Jones and Boston and out of it flowed a trio of impressive cask beers, made with British malt and local hops. I recall Penrhos Bitter (OG 1042) , Jones’s First Brew and Penrhos Porter (both OG 1050) as beers ahead of their time. We even lugged a wooden firkin home for one Christmas, insouciantly forgetting it would be a 300 mile round trip to return the ‘empty’.

Launched in 1977, the brewery formed just one chapter in a remarkable 30 year epoch for Penrhos; it shut in 1983, the year the Pythons released The Meaning of Life with Jones creating the ultimate glutton/food critic, Mr Creosote. Beer continued to play an important part in Terry Jones’ life (which ended sadly in 2020). 

In 2003 he contributed a piece to the 30th edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. It was titled My Love Affair With Beer and confirmed: “Beer, for me, is more than something I like drinking. It’s a litmus of civilisation. If the society is making good beer, then it’s a healthy society… Real ale is a civilised drink. Keg beer is a dead parrot.”

It’s that time of the year again when Bundobust is dangling its festive baubles, otherwise known as Sprout Bhajis. It’s a world away from all the crass foodie gimmicks of Christmas – pigs in blankets pizza toppings and the like, but then this burgeoning brand yoking Gujarati veggie street snacks to craft beer always does things with style.

So what do you get for your £4.75? Deep-fried bundles of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onion, fennel and chilli, served with a dollop of cranberry chutney. Chuck in an extra £1.25 and it comes in a soft vegan brioche bun. Proof all their venues are a Scrooge-free zone, a quid from each Sprout Bhaji Butty goes to a local charity.

My Bundo destination of choice to snaffle a bhaji has to be their latest project – the Bundobust Brewery on Oxford Street in Manchester, where head brewer Dan Hocking is knocking out a splendid range of beers tailored towards the spice-driven food menu.

I was disappointed on a recent visit that my favourite of his beers wasn’t on. West is West is a piney and resinous, dank and bitter (in a good way) West Coast IPA. A perfect match for the setting, surrounded by the gleaming vessels of a working brewery, it reminded me of many of the taprooms I’ve visited along the US western seaboard. In San Diego, say.

Which brings me back, by a roundabout route, to Brussel sprouts. The tiny green cannonballs are definitely love or loathe over here with major consumption confined to Christmas. Our Brussels Sprouts Appreciation Society Facebook Group numbers under 700 members after five years in existence.

Vivid green healthy ammunition, but they are culinary anathema to many folk

Contrast this with California, where the foggy, coastal area south of San Francisco grows 95 cent of the American crop, and they are mega cool. A big help is they are not over-cooked to bland mushiness. Food websites in the States are packed with innovative ways to treat your Brussels, which are neck and neck with kale to be top green on menus. Apparently they are a good source of dietary fibre, folic acid, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. Sprouts date back to Roman times but were first grown in large quantities in Belgium – hence the Brussels tag – and French settlers brought them to Louisiana in the 18th century.

Flying kites for the much-maligned Brussels sprout in glorious San Diego

Yes, there are roasted sprout gumbos out there, but I’ve never tackled one. I vividly remember  tempura sprouts accompanying  shrimp tacos in one downtown San Diego taproom, their natural hint of bitterness in harmony with the hop. Bizarrely research has shown that genetically two thirds of folk may be wired against the bitter chemical PTC found in sprouts, broccoli, dark chocolate, coffee and even beer. 

Definitely count me out of that pool.

My top Brussels sprout dish is also Indian…from my favourite new generation cookery writer, Meera Sodha. This quick Keralan stir-fry is in Fresh India, her follow-up to debut Made In India (both are £20 from Penguin Fig Tree). Like so many of her recipes, it fuses her Asian culinary sensibility with the raw materials she inherited when her family made their home in rural Lincolnshire.

Shredded Brussels Sprout Thoran (Choti gobhi thoran)


2 tbsp coconut oil; 1 tsp mustard seeds; 12 curry leaves; one large red onion, thinly sliced;  2 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 red chilli, finely sliced; 50g coconut, grated (fresh, creamed, or desiccated); 600g Brussels sprouts, washed and shredded; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/2 lemon, juiced.


Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Once hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook for a minute or two until they start to pop. Add the red onion. Cook until soft and starting to caramelise, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli and coconut and stir fry for a couple more minutes.

Turn the heat up. Add the sprouts, mix thoroughly, and stir fry for a few more minutes. Add the salt and lemon juice, stir, and then adjust the seasoning to taste. The lemon juice counters any bitterness from the greens, so add more if you’ve used quite large sprouts.

Bundobust has three other bar/restaurants besides the Brewery – the original in Leeds, Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool. They are all taking Christmas bookings now.

Bizarre though it may seem, when you next order a slab of membrillo to partner your Manchego at a tapas joint you are actually tapping into an English culinary wellspring that dates back to Tudor times and before.

Quince paste, which we associate with the Spanish kitchen (there’s also a French version called cotignac) was once commonplace and highly prized. Even as late as 1845 Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery is offering us a recipe for quince blancmange with almond cream.

But the quince fell out of fashion compared with its kin, the apple and the pear. Not helped by any image problem. So many varieties were merely ornamental with fruit too small to make use of. There’s one such in our garden.

Nowadays this glorious seasonal fruit is definitely undergoing a foodie resurgence.

The best place to find them affordably is a Middle-Eastern grocers. My first batch of the autumn was bought from a little shop around the corner from Levenshulme Station in Manchester. A quid each for some magnificent specimens. Yellow and downy, their scent permeated the train carriage on the way home.

Quinces are believed to have been the ‘Golden Apples’ stole from the Hesperides in the Greek myth, sacred to Venus (they are a backdrop to Venus and Mars in a section of Mantegna’s Parnassus), but it won’t be love at first bite. So resist the temptation to bite into your prized fruit, which has been picked slightly unripe; raw, it will prove hard, almost gritty and raspingly sour.

You will have to make plans for them, all of which will involve stewing of some kind or baking with sugar or honey. As it cooks it turns from yellow to a “cornelian pink’. A little will go a long way as in aromatically enhancing an apple crumble along with cloves and cinnamon, say. 

Moroccan tagines and any number of long simmered Persian lamb dishes will welcome the sweet/sour vigour a quince contributes (make sure you core and de-pip them thoroughly, though). Below is a dish I made with part of my haul – chicken with caramelised quinces from the great Claudia Roden’s Arabesque.

If this sounds on the exotic side let’s trace back to quince as the quintessentially English fruit via a historical cookbook I treasure – Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. Published in 1986, it was a side project and obvious labour of love for Hilary Spurling, biographer of Matisse and Ivy Compton-Burnett. Her husband, the playwright John Spurling inherited the original handwritten book, inscribed ‘Lady Elinor Fettiplace, 1604’. 

From this stout tome, bound in leather and stamped in gold with endpapers made from scraps of medieval Latin manuscript, Hilary extracted 200 recipes that reflect the month by month workings of the kitchen at the Fettiplace home, Appleton Manor in Oxfordshire.

Elinor calls her quince paste quince marmalade but don’t let that fool you. The word derives from Portuguese marmelada, meaning ‘quince cheese’ or ‘quince jam’). The Seville orange version was the eventual breakfast table usurper. 

Boxes of quince marmalade had been the medieval wedding present of choice and, according to Hilary, “they remained a luxury gift for anyone from royalty downwards until well into the 17th century”. They commonly came in brick shapes – shades of membrillo.

So what is Mistress Fettiplace’s timeless recipe for membrillo? It is one of 15 she provides for this fruit, twice as much as for any other. 

Take your quinces and rost them, then take the best of the meat of them & way to every pound of it, a pound of sugar & beat it together in a mortar, & boyle it till it be so thick that it com from the posnet, then mould it & print it, & dry it before the fire.

Hilary Spurling interprets it (I’m paraphrasing) as first wipe the quinces with a cloth but don’t peel. Bake them, preferably in an earthenware pot for an hour or two until they are soft but not collapsed. Cool, cut up and core. Sieve the pulp and mix with an equal weight of white sugar. A posnet is a three-footed metal cooking pot; any thick-bottomed pan will do instead. Bring slowly to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Gently cook for a further hour or two until the mixture begins to candy and leave the pan sides. Ladle it out into patterned moulds or in a half inch layer on a flat oiled tin. Dry in a warm place until the paste is firm. Wrap in greaseproof paper for storage.

Serve with Cheddar or Stilton since we have reclaimed quince paste for England. Better still a Rachel (goat) or Berkswell (sheep) unpasteurised farmhouse cheese.

Priest Stranglers and Little Sparrows are not quite the odd bedfellows they sound. Both find common ground in the North Italian city of Trento (above), glorious gateway to the Dolomites. The Trentino has always been wrangled over by Italy and Austria; reaching its blood-stained apogee during the Great War. Witness the trenches and obsolete weaponry that still litter the mountain ridges. 

A benevolent legacy, though, is the intermingling of Germanic and Italian Alpine cuisines. That’s why you’ll find Strangolapreti (stranglers) and Spätzle (sparrows) sharing equal billing on the menus. The former, also known Strozzapreti, are usually a twisty pasta made up of just flour water and salt – but no eggs. Legend has it these were taken by the Church as tithes, leaving the peasants to fulminate against ‘priest-chokers’ or ‘priest-stranglers’ in anti-clerical hotbeds such as Emilia Romagna. Or maybe it’s just a reference to how you shape them by hand.

Up in Trento my Strangolapreti turned out to be a delicious local variant – spinach gnocchi. In truth, they weren’t a far remove from the Spätzle, noodles which do benefit from the presence of eggs. In the Swabian-German dialect the name translates as ‘little sparrows’, which they resemble in flight when shaped by a spoon in the traditional way.

From its South West German birthplace the dish has flown across all the Alpine regions, establishing itself everywhere and, most handily, is now nesting in a restaurant in Manchester, paying its own homage – The Spärrows.

Up on Red Bank chef/co-owner Franco Concli stays true to his own Trentino roots by making the Spätzle the traditional way, hand scraping them off the floury board and dropping them into simmering water. They are available both as savoury and, very apres ski, as a sweet, with cinammon, brown sugar and butter.

I like both the Spätzle and Gnocchi served simply with butter and sage (£7 for 110g), but on a recent visit chose the £9 version with guanciale (cured pork cheek), which was fabulously soothing. So too was a special of beetroot-tinctured agnoletti filled with ricotta and lemon. 

Russian style pelmeni dumplings with beef/pork garlic breadcrumbs (£8.50) were less satisfying. I should have gone for the Polish pierogi, little dumplings filled with melted cottage cheese and potato with soured cream and sauerkraut, a favourite from The Spärrows’ early days in a small archway near Manchester’s Victoria Station.

Since then the drinks list has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of co-owner, Polish-born Kasia Hitchcock. It is as focused as the cool but cosy fit-out of a much larger arch space. A sake and spirits expert, she has been very canny with a wine list that majors in the very Alpine territory occupied by most of the food. Reds such as Lagrein, Teroldego and a Pinot Nero, are all there, from the Trentino/Alto Adige with their better known country cousin, Zweigelt from Austria. Its producer Sepp Moser also supplies the well-priced house white, a moreish Gruner Veltliner (the thinking person’s Sauvignon Blanc).

It all takes me back to Trento. I was in town for the annual Mostra dei Vini, the spring festival celebrating the wines of the Trentino region. After dark I mingled with the winemakers and was astonished at the variety of styles and local grape varieties used. Among the reds I liked the chunky Marzeminos, the more ethereal Pinot Neros and the flagship Teroldegos, with Muller-Thurgau outstanding among the whites. The delicate Nosiola, grown in a small corner of Trentino only, fared better as the base for the dessert wine Vino Santo (not Vin Santo, that’s Tuscan).

The jolly fest was held in the stunning Castello del Buonconsiglio. The original 13th century Castelvecchio (“old castle”) is in contrast to all the Renaissance add-ons in different styles erected to the glory of various Prince-Bishops who ruled here in the name of the Holy Roman Empire. Cardinal Bernardio Clesio, the greatest of these, was responsible for its vast artistic treasure house, the Palazzo Magno. I liked the earlier Gothic-Venetian loggia.

The castle also houses a grim reminder of the bloody Italian campaign during the Great War – the dungeon that housed patriot martyr Cesare Battisti before he was hanged  in the castle grounds. This was Austrian territory then and they regarded him as a traitor for fighting on the Italian side. A Battisti mausoleum tops a hill outside Trento. As I write this piece on our own Remembrance Day I’ve opened a bottle of Teroldego to salute the fallen on a front that most Britons have never heard of.

The Spärrows, 16 Red Bank (Green Quarter), Manchester, M4 4HF. 0161 302 6267. Word of warning: access is via a plain door with minimal signage.

Fashion and diamonds, waffles and ales – Antwerp’s a heady mix even before its surreal side creeps up on you. And it will. Just let it. Rubens and Bruegel, the gabled Grote Markt and the soaring Flemish Gothic cathedral offer you art and architecture with a Capital A, but don’t neglect the hard-nosed quirkiness that also stalks this town, so perfect for an offbeat weekend break.

Step into the Chocolate Line workshop of self-styled “Shok-o-llatier” Dominique Persoone and ask for one of his chocolate shooters, which catapult finely ground dust of of exotically flavoured cocoa up your nose. No sniggers when you learn they were first commissioned by the wives of Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts for a surprise birthday party for their Rolling Stone husbands.

“Instead of putting chocolate on the dish, because they were the rock ‘n’ roll grandpas, we thought they should sniff the chocolate and to get a good result we designed a machine for that,” says maverick Dominique. “We just made one for that party, but then everybody talked about it in the newspapers, so then we had to make it commercial because everybody was asking for it.”

My companion took the full whoosh of a ginger flavoured shooter, while I suffered the lingering torment of sucking on a wasabi suffused truffle. Heston Blumenthal is a fan. I can see why.

The Paris-trained chef with a “chocolate is rock and roll” tattoo on his right bicep, set up hisfirst shop in his native Bruges; the Antwerp offshoot, utilising the finest South American source materials, is inside the splendid 18th century mansion called the Palais op de Meir (Meir is the main shopping drag between the imposing, gilt-encrusted Centraal Station and the Old Town).

The Palais once belonged to Napoleon, so our Flemish Willy Wonka created a chocolate in homage in the shape of a bicorne hat, filled with marzipan, cherry liquor and bitter banana cream. Look out for poodles and frogs crafted out of the finest cacao.

A sweet alternative is the waffle and doyen of these in a city that likes to snack is Désiré De Lille on Schrijnwerkerstraat (easier to pronounce than spell, it means Blacksmith Street). Desire’s HQ has a decided 1930s feel about it. Pass through to the glass pergola at the back where carp-teeming pools give it a lightly oriental garden feel. Decidedly not light are the alternatives to waffles and doughnuts – smoutebollen, or deep-fried lard balls. Good ballast, as they say.

Just the thing before running the considerable gamut of celebrated Belgian beer styles – immensely drinkable, deceptively strong Duval, various Trappiste ales such as Westmalle, Orval and Chimay and the sour, challenging Geuzes and Lambics, their grip sometimes softened by fruit in variants such as Kriek (cherry).

Step into the kitschfest that is Het Elfde Gebod, self-styled ‘The Holy Place’ on Torfbrug, more a shrine to monkish merriment than your average beer bar, and order the local De Koninck. “Ah, you want a bolleke,” the waitress tells you. That’s the local globe-shaped glass it comes in. That’s what you ask for here and in more classic “brown” long bars like Cafe Den Engel, centre of the Antwerp convivial universe with a view across the Grote Markt of the 400ft lacy spire of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Our Lady’s Cathedral).

This light-filled Gothic leviathan houses the pinnacle of resident genius Rubens’ devotional works, but before you make the pilgrimage across the cobbles to worship the sublime Descent from The Cross, central panel of a tryptich. and three other masterpieces, stop off at the statue of Brabo in front of the town hall (Stadhuis)  

Brabo? Verdigris coated nude chucking a severed hand, like some deranged baseball pitcher shedding his mitt. Symbol of the city. Antwerp translates as hand throwing in Dutch. Legend has a giant (or heavily-built entrepreneur) called Druon Antigon who lopped off the hand of any sailor unable or unwilling to pay the toll to sail on the River Scheldt. he was finally defeated and has his own hand detached by the Roman soldier Silvious Brabo, who then became the Duke of Brabant.

The hand symbol is all over a riverside museum opened a decade ago to explore the city’s past, ethnography  and many big issues (Life and Death anyone?). Oh and check out the luminously disorienting Matrix room! Yes we’re back with quirky. The MAS, (Museum aan de Stroom) is a striking building resembling a pile of rusty red horizontal box files.

Offering panoramic views of the city, it is the centrepiece of the Het Eilandje district, regenerating the old docks, Bonapartedok and Willemdok, which also hosts the Red Star Line Museum, tracing the exodus of 2 million emigrants across the Atlantic on the company’s steamers. 

Classy eating options are already in place. The dockside Het Pomphuis was completed in 1920 as one of the largest pumping stations in Europe. All this industrial heritage is the backdrop to the restaurant’s culinary aspirations.

After the Cathedral, a craving for art having overtaken one for waffles and a swift bolleke, I’d recommend visiting the much-restored Rubenshuis. It’s not crammed with his works (though don’t miss a fascinating self-portrait of 1630), but it is an atmospheric introduction to a hugely successful as well as great artist, who spent much of his life in Antwerp.

A generation before, Pieter Bruegel the Elder also spent a period living in the city. His Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) from 1562 is a nightmarish Hieronymous Bosch like allegory depicting a peasant who leads an army of women to pillage Hell. It was discovered at an auction in 1897 and bought for a minimal sum by a young collector called Fritz Mayer van den Bergh. Four years later he was dead and his mother built a gallery in his name to house Meg and the rest of his 1,000 artworks, mostly from the Northern Renaissance. Just south of the Grote Markt on Lange Gasthuisstraat, it is a gem of a place. I had it to myself visiting the city’s Sunday street markets.

Not far away, in the Vrijdagmarkt square, is the Plantin-Moretus Museum, a well-preserved building, which in the 16th century housed 22 printing presses and was a magnet for dissident intellectuals. Alongside old presses, the museum contains many printed treasures including Mercator maps and a Gothenburg bible. Afterwards, just wander alleys that have remained from medieval times to get a feel for the city of Rubens, Bruegel and printer Plantin.

I’d like to say I got round to exploring the Diamond Quarter (it’s superficially drab and was closed for the weekend) and the Fashion Quarter – I kept discovering fashionable new beers and genevers (gins) instead – but I am assured Antwerp is a place to come for affordability and individual chic. The Tourism Information folk can supply an Antwerp fashion map, if you feel the style urge.

There’s so much to occupy your entire weekend without leaving the Old Town, but we did venture, via Tram Route 8 from Groenplaats, to the increasingly trendy South Side of the city. We gawped at the spiky Law Courts complex designed by Richard Rogers before visiting the old De Koninck brewery for a final bolleke of the visit (and much Duvel and Kriek, too) in a cheese matching event organised by the best cheese affineur (maturer) in town and in Europe according the Wall Street Journal  – Van Tricht. Their cheese shop in Fruithoflaan is well worth a visit… but even a few nibbles do raise a thirst. Cheers! Santé! Or as they say in Flemish: Op uw gezondheid!


This is essential for exploring the city thoroughly. It costs 37 euros for 48 hours and gives you free entry to all Antwerp museums and monumental churches, including the Cathedral of Our Lady, a free printed map guide, a discount of at least 25 per cent on tourist attractions, sightseeing and bike rentals plus special offers on typical Antwerp and Belgian products, such as chocolate.

It’s a 30 mile meander across the West Flanders fields from Dranouter in Heuvelland to Dottignies in French-speaking Wallonia. You’re always just in Belgium but aware that this is border country, in the hinterland of France’s fifth largest city, Lille. On a squally Saturday afternoon up on the Pennine Moors there’s a decided gustatory ley line connecting us to both these distant municipalities.

It’s all about food rooted in the Tyke terroir but with an undertow of new wave Belgian influences forging a bond with a powerful dark beer that similarly reflects the zest of a groundbreaking generation in that country.

In the bar of the Moorcock Inn at Norland there’s a well-thumbed copy of Kobe Desramaults’ eponymous cookbook. Moorcock co-owner Alisdair Brooke-Taylor was Kobe’s right hand man at his Michelin-starred In de Wulf at Dranouter, in a region poignantly dotted with Great War cemeteries.

When In de Wulf closed in 2105 Al and his sommelier partner, Aimee Tufford, brought back to the UK – among much else – an affinity with Belgian beer. That’s why if you look beyond hand pulls dispensing Yorkshire cask ales from Timothy Taylor and Vocation you’ll find a bottled beer list of dubbels and trippels, saisons, geuzes and lambics. Even different ages of Orval, if you’re lucky.

The Brouwerij De Ranke XX is on of my go-to beers in my quest for a true bitter finish. The hop freaks of contemporary Belgian brewing Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos have been brewing this 6.2 per cent pale ale since 1996. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, using only whole hops, not pellets. The only compromise is in the address. Dottignies, site of the brewery they built in 2004, is in Wallonia but the De Ranke official HQ is a mile or two away in Flemish territory.

• Listen to a Belgiansmaak podcast interview with De Ranke co-founder Nino Bacelle.

The XX is not on the Moorcock beer list but, to our surprise, there’s a limited edition 750ml sharing bottle of a De Ranke Back To Black, originally brewed for the 10th anniversary of another forward-thinking Belgian brewery, lambic specialists Moeder. Remarkable value at £16, it is billed as an imperial porter and it pours almost black. Brewed with seven different malts and aged in barrel for nine months, it is as complex as you’d expect, with a nose of oak (obviously), dark chocolate and figs/raisins, yet its smooth cherryish taste combines sourness and bitterness in perfect balance.

 Not quite what you’d expect but a Eureka moment. It is a quite perfect match for the Moorcock menu de jour (as they don’t say in the hills above Sowerby Bridge). When Kobe Desramault moved from farmhouse-based In de Wulf  to open Chambre Séparée in Ghent he took foraging and fire with him to an urban setting. The five-ton smokehouse and industrial-grade grill in the Moorcock car park seems a better fit here. So too, as the website proclaims, “250 acres of productive moorland, providing plenty of plants, berries, mushrooms and game”…. and an onsite organic kitchen garden.

Pick of the dishes off the blackboard were both fish-led. A mackerel tartare with preserved chestnuts and radish (£8), a combo I’ve never encountered before, tasted as distinctive as it looked – autumn on a plate, while the under-rated grey mullet becomes a star in treatment Al calls a ‘bouillabaisse’ that is a remove from the Provencal stereotype. Chunks of the line-caught fish are cooked en papillote with fennel and preserved lemon, both of which scent it marvellously. At £18 it is the second most expensive dish on a menu that usually contains only a couple of meat ‘mains’ these days. My companion is a vegetarian/pescatarian, so we veered in that direction.

The porter had a particular affinity with wood-roast kabucha (Japanese) pumpkin gnocchi (£13.50), strewn with a walnut pesto and curls of house ricotta. Not the prettiest dish and as substantial as it sounds, it felt a proper antidote to the inclemency of the weather.

Perhaps we were being greedy ordering the crispy smoked potatoes that are a Moorcock constant as well as a confit Jerusalem artichokes, wood-roast mushrooms in another intriguing marriage with laverbread and miso-pickled beans. I’m not quite sure this gelled, but then where else for miles around would you find any chef as consistently inventive. The drinks list put together by Aimee is equally special. 

Do make the trip up. On foot’s best for the sheer adventure. But definitely choose the right day! Captain Smidge (below) was the very definition of ‘wet dog’.

Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP. 01422 832103.