The best gifts come in pairs. In the run-up to Christmas the most perfect grazing bolthole has sprung up down the road, from which a portal has opened to a cornucopia of Italian artisan wonders. Living the edible dream as just bottled, grassy new season olive oil from the Abruzzo, Sicilian capers packing a volcanic punch and a whole Tuscan finocchiona (fennel salami) from Cinta senese pigs arrived in the post the other day. All the way from some enlightened middle men in Bermondsey.

Buon appetito then. But first back to that handily placed bolthole. It’s in Hebden Bridge in a former bank building and it’s called Coin. What’s behind the bar’s name? I suggest to co-owners Oliver Lawson and Chloe Greenwood it might be a reference to the ‘The Cragg Vale Coiners’. Up the hill in Heptonstall Shane Meadows is currently filming The Gallows Pole – a BBC adaptation of Ben Myers’ novel about real life 18th century counterfeiters in the Calder Valley. 

Already there’s a craft beer bar in nearby Mytholmroyd named Barbary’s after the alehouse the gang frequented. Or maybe Coin as the French for corner to match the site whose lofty windows look out on two streets? And, of course, in its previous incarnation as Lloyds Bank plenty of small change passed across the counter.

Oliver, poker-faced, agrees it might be any or all of those. He’s more forthcoming about the origins of the charcuterie board we’ve ordered along with a £10 trio of Lindisfarne oysters  and schooners of Garage IPA from Barcelona. 

The imports he’s most proud of are the finely sliced finocchiona, mortadella, coppa and prosciutto di San Daniele that circle a wedge of the bar’s home-made pâté de campagne on our platter. Having worked for the likes of Mana in Manchester and (along with Chloe) the Moorcock at Norland he has a fair handle on quality ingredients and that’s even more important when kitchen facilities are limited.

It’s a similar scenario at Flawd at New Islington Marina, Manchester. As part of their small plate offering Flawd source their cured meats from Curing Rebels in Brighton. It would have been easy for Coin to rely on local stars  Porcus in the hills above Todmorden, but ‘Slow Food Movement’ explorations in Italy left them smitten with the quality they found. 

“We wanted to do something different to anything else in the area,” Oliver tells us as he adds a house pickle accompaniment to the table. “The charcuterie prices are pretty much the same that we would pay for their British equivalent.”

The 100g meat plate is £13.95, a plate of five cheeses (two French, one Swiss, a Cheddar and Todmorden’s very own Devil’s Rock Blue) a tenner, while simple small plates range from £5.50 to £9.50. Our meal eventually costs me an extra £90 on top. Why? Because I was so enamoured of the charcuterie we were served that back home I placed my own order with the UK suppliers and friends of Oliver and Chloe, The Ham and Cheese Company. Formed on a Borough Market stall 15 years ago, they now work out of wholesale maturing rooms in a Victorian railway arch in Bermondsey. All they sell is from a network of small, ultra-sustainable, independent producers from across Italy (plus there’s a small Basque presence also).

The operation has a huge fan base among top London chefs specialising in Italian cuisine – Theo Randall, Joe Trivelli of the River Cafe and Murano’s Angela Hartnett, who says: “What I love about Elliott and Alison is their ability to source the most incredible salumi straight from the producer. The best I have tasted – plus my mother (with Italian roots) agrees!”

What really sold Ham and Cheese Co to me was a blog by Alison on the website entitled The Ethical Abbatoir. Its mission statement is immediate: “The first thing we ask a potential new producer is the number of pigs they slaughter a week. We know that this will often tell us more about the producer, their philosophy, and the quality of their product, than any other question.” This blog piece features their San Daniele provider, Prolongo, a family business that is so wedded to tradition (natural drying and ageing, salting, massaging and larding) that they only produce 7,000 hams a year).

It’s harder to work this way in the UK because the tradition of small-scale animal slaughter that these Italian producers sustain has all but disappeared. 

Not feeling able to run to a 2.3kg whole rare breed Mora Romagnoli mortadella from Aldo Zivieri, I had settled on a more modest finocchiona from Carlo Pieri, who has a small shop in the Tuscan village of Sant Angelo Scalo near Montalcino. He works just four pigs a week and uses a local abattoir he invested in to save it. His octogenarian mum picks all the wild fennel seeds and fennel pollen that season Carlo’s salumi. Check out my paean to fennel pollen.

As it turns out I end up accepting a substitute. Elliott tries to ring me, then texts the news that the next delivery from Tuscany is a week away; I can wait or try, at the same price, a new producer’s fennel salami, 50g smaller but normally more expensive, made from Cinta Senese, the queen of Italian pigs (above), so I’m actually getting a better deal. 

And so it proved. A perfect blend of creamy fat and sweetly cured flesh, the one from the Rosati family’s Azienda Agricola Fontanelle was remarkably even better than the Pieri we first tasted at Coin. We paired it with buffalo mozzarella and doused them in that ‘green’ olive oil I mentioned.

A final word, especially relevant as no shows proliferate across hospitality, by all means do as I did, and work your way through the producer pen pictures on the Ham and Cheese website, revealing a glorious food culture. Maybe even place an order. But do support a small indie like Coin, launching at the most difficult of times. 

I’m going back as soon as I can to road-test the rest of the menu and a whole raft of natural wines. As usual I’ll be making my own Negronis this Christmas, yet I also intend to try one of Oliver and Chloe’s. Before tackling another charcuterie platter, naturally.

Coin, Albert Street, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8AH. 01422 847707.

Of all the places to be buttonholed by a mycophile. A craft beer sharing-bottle gathering that got the festive season off to a very jolly start for five dedicated trenchermen. Except I left with a small amount of semi-drunken shame at being so ignorant of all the wild mushrooms out there after our resident expert had expounded on the joys of foraging. Oh to be able to rhapsodise too about finally chancing upon an epic cluster of hen of the wood just yards from your cottage.

So will I take the fungi plunge in 2022? Probably not. A residual fear of going down the inadvertent toxic route has kept me from taking a basket into the trees and perhaps harvesting the likes of Deadly Webcap, Death Cap, Destroying Angel or Funeral Bell (the names are the giveaway).

OK, so the rare Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus), which lurks among heather and bilberry, is unlikely to crop up in my neck of the woods. In Europe, though, gatherers have consumed it it and perished after mistaking it for magic mushrooms (Psilocybe species) or chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).

The amazing world of wild mushrooms remains a comparative mystery to me

The former my brain can live without, the latter I’m happy to pay for by the punnet in season from the Valley Veg stall that sets up next to St Michael’s Church, Mytholmroyd every Saturday morning. We’re never likely to match the wealth of available wild mushrooms in European market but such a local initiative is good to have.

Yet even shopping at the stall I’ve been confronted by a mycological mystery. My favourite greengrocer calls the chanterelles girolles. Are they one and the same? Well, yes and no. I consulted Jane Grigson’s scholarly Mushroom Feast (1975) first and relished her minute description of this strong-flavoured apricot-orange fungus as “a curving trumpet, with delicate ribs running from the stalk through to the under edge of the cap like fine vaulting”.

I turned to the book’s index. Just after Chalon du Bled, Louis (Marquis d’Uxelles) 28-29 (for whom La Varenne created the classic shallot and champignon ‘crumb’, duxelles) I found Chanterelle, see Girolle(s)

Grigson indeed finds the names interchangeable. Chanterelle come to us from the French but they prefer to call them girolles. The waters are muddied further by Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion To Food listing different variants in France itself and across the globe with assorted Latin names.

With this in mind I’m inclined to follow the argument of Rosy Thornton of Emmanuel College, , who writes on one forum: ‘Chanterelle’ is the name of a whole family of fungi, which includes the girolle, which is probably the most delicious and highly sought-after of the chanterelles. But the family also includes other fungi which are not girolles: for example, the trompette de mort (horn of plenty) and the chanterelle gris (trumpet chanterelle).

One thing that is certain is chanterelles/girolles are near impossible to cultivate. The best place to find them is on mossy forest floors around maple, beech, and oak trees. Prepared simply they are delicious, even if I’m inclined to discount the hint of apricot flavour the fanciful link to their appearance. Their texture is tougher than ordinary mushrooms, so Alan Davidson suggests you oak the fresh fungi in milk overnight, starting them on a low heat, so they exude their own juices and can be cooked slowly in them.

They go well with eggs, while the French love to team them à la forestière” with bacon and potatoes. Jane Grigson’s favourite way is serving them on buttered toast, which in her day wouldn’t have been sourdough. She even inclined towards simple biscottes (rusks) as base for the extravagant amount of girolles in her recipe, below. Perhaps they carpeted the woods around Trôo, her Loire home.

She prefaced her recipe thus: ”In spite of undeniably good recipes like the girolles à la forestière” or the delicious flavour of chicken and girolles together, I still think that the best way of eating them is the simplest one of all. If you choose biscottes in preference to bread, you will agree with me, I think, that this recipe combines crispness and beautifully flavoured chewiness, both set off by butter, black pepper and some parsley.”

I like to add burrata and watercress to my version of girolles on sourdough toast


2-3 pounds girolles; butter; one clove garlic finely chopped; salt, freshly ground black pepper; chopped parsley; well buttered biscottes or toasts.


Trim off the earthy part of the girolle stems, then wash the caps quickly but carefully, and drain them well. Cook them in several tablespoons of butter, adding the garlic. Keep the heat high, once the mushrooms begin exuding their juice – some people drain off this liquid, and complete the cooking of the mushrooms in fresh butter.  It very much depends on how wet or dry the girolles are, which again depends on the season in which they are picked. The answer is to drain off the liquid if it doesn’t evaporate before the mushrooms are cooked; they must not be allowed to stew to leather. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley, and serve on biscottes or toasts immediately.”

My mushroom challenge for 2022

Glad that’s settled. My New Year resolution now is to challenge our dedicated mushroom hunter-gatherer to come up with a Jew’s Ear (Auricilaria auricilaria-judae). Much prized for its flavour and texture by the Chinese, who dry it, it is also known as wood ear. The anti-semitic name dates back to the Middle Ages, possibly a reference to Judas, who reputedly hanged himself from an elder tree – the host species.

Why do I crave this particular specimen? What’s not  to like about this description in Richard Mabey’s classic Food for Free (1972): “I can imagine no food more forbidding in appearance than the Jew’s Ear. It hangs in folds from decaying elder branches like slices of some ageing kidney, clammy and jelly-like the touch. It is no fungus to leave around the house if you have sensitive relations, or even to forget about in your own pocket.”

And it’s safe to eat as  long as you cook it. It’s always the good lookers you have to watch out for.

How memorable the morning I came away from Manchester Art Gallery clutching a packet of sea kale seeds from the gallery shop. I also carried with me newly purchased copies of Derek Jarman’s Garden and the polymath artist’s Modern Nature, the first an illustrated memoir of how he created his unique garden in the challenging terrain of Dungeness, Kent, the second his journals from January 1989 onwards, meshing his horticultural project inexorably with the AIDS-related complications that would eventually claim his life eight years later.

Derek Jarman Protest! is a remarkable retrospective of a multifarious creative career, on until April 10 2022 (free but you must book a slot). Alongside, from January 30, the 80th anniversary of his birth, all 11 of his feature films and a further 11 shorts will be shown as part of the collaborative Derek Jarman at HOME season at the city’s First Street arts venue.

 The whole package is the first time in 20 years the diverse strands of Jarman’s practice – as painter, writer, avant-garde filmmaker, set-designer, gardener, pop video innovator, gay rights champion, political activist – have been brought together. In truth, I’ve never hugely warmed to his cinematic output, even with the luminous presence of Tilda Swinton (pictured below in Caravaggio, my favourite because I love the artist) alongside a still from challenging final work Blue.

In contrast Jarman’s late return to painting, inspired by the jewels inside a seemingly barren landscape and in response to the emotional aridity of the Thatcher years, is sublime. So too his set designs. His writings will also last as a poignant record of what it was like to be a homosexual in times of persecution and plague. And then there is that garden… 

At the exhibition, to get to the apparent serenity of of a huge wall portraying a bucolic Prospect Cottage – albeit against its backdrop of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station – you have to pass through the most politicised aspects of Protest!. 

Here’ll you’ll find dark, deathly ‘Assemblages’ such as ‘Mrs Thatcher’s Lunch’, where the cutlery is stained with blood and scratched into the surface are the words ‘GBH promises, promises, promises, The Affluent Society’. Interpretations of the cryptic GBH include  ‘Grievous Bodily Harm’ or ‘Great British Horror’.

At first this artistic agit-prop and his residual gregariousness (he was crowned drag-tastic Alternative Miss World in 1975 for his Miss Crepe Suzette) seem at odds with the fisherman’s hut he retreated to, shortly after being diagnosed HIV positive in 1987. Yet around the distinctive black dwelling with its yellow window frames and John Donne’s great poem The Sun Rising emblazoned on an outside wall, he created a rustic work of art in its own right that has become a place of pilgrimage. When we visited a decade ago the great garden was still profuse but in 2018 when Jarman’s companion HB died all was placed in jeopardy.  

Thankfully, Prospect House was rescued for posterity by fund-raising £3.5m. We pray its current custodians, Creative Folkestone, can restore the garden to its to its glory – an unfenced riot of flotsam and jetsam, driftwood and flints, Japanese-like pebble patterns and the hardiest of plants. Jarman hated lawns and over-manicured habitats. So do I.

Sea kale – nature’s work of art I hope to cook and eat

Generally rare, Crambe maritima (cabbage of the sea) flourishes on the Ness as nowhere else in England and it was one of the plants that survived best on the saline shingle surrounding the blackened clapboard of his Prospect Cottage. 

In the Manchester Art Gallery shop there is a selection of nine seed packets for sale, each £2.75, ‘carefully hand-packed by Thomas Etty Esq’ , a Kent-based heritage seed supplier. Populating your own garden with the likes of sea campion, rock samphire, sea carrot and wood sage is the plan but I feel they may not necessarily thrive in my part of the world. And I’m never letting the invasive viper’s bugloss anywhere near my flower patch, however pretty.

Still as a tribute to Jarman I shall plant the sea kale seeds in my loamy Yorkshire raised beds this March. It will take patience as, after thinning the rows, you must allow a further year for them to acclimatise. Even then you must blanch by covering with a bucket.

One concern I will be spared is raised early in Derek Jarman’s Garden. “Crambe maritima are edible, but a radiologist told me that they accumulate radioactivity from the nuclear power station more than any other plant.” It’s just the slugs I’ve got to worry about. Or maybe not. According to Jarman with roots 20ft long, tough enough to resist caterpillars and snails, a sea kale plant can live up to half a century.

The symbolic importance to Jarman of ‘sage green’ sea kale is evident when it is the first plant name-checked in Modern Nature, but this rhapsodic Garden entry captures it best: “It is the Ness’s most distinguished plant… they come up between the boats. 

“They die away completely in winter, just a bud on the corky stem. In March they start to sprout – the first sign of spring. The leaves are an inky purple, which looks fine in the ochre pink pebbles, but they rapidly lose the purple and become a glaucous blue-green. 

“Then buds appear; by May these turn into sprays of white flower with little yellow centres – they have a heavy, honey scent which blows across the Ness. The flowers then turn into seeds – which look like a thousand peas. They lose their green and become the colour of bone. At this stage they are at their most beautiful – sprays of pale ochre, several thousand seeds on each plant. The autumn winds return, the leaves rot at the base, dry out and blow away; by November the Crambe has completely disappeared.” Until the next year.

Let me confess: I have little aptitude for beachcombing/foraging. If I go off, I first consult the essential Edible Seashore by John Wright (£14.99), fifth in the River Cottage Handbook series. This warns you off picking more than a few leaves from a sea kale plant in SSSIs (Sites of Specific Scientific Interest). Which is no hardship when you consider they can grow up to two metres in diameter.

What deters me in my quest to cultivate and cook it comes in Edible Seashore “How to cook” section: While it is possible to eat a mature cooked sea kale leaf, it may require a day or two to accomplish the task. It has the flavour and texture of a damp thick face flannel. As the Victorian horticulturalist, Charles McIntosh lamented, this kale cannot be too much boiled.”

They recommend picking when the leaves are purple and tiny. On the bitter side at this stage, it’s best to blanch. Better still try the young flower spikes, which taste like broccoli. Or you can dig up and steam the shoots (though this is counter-productive to having a crop next year!) The taste is said to resemble asparagus.

For an exotic recipe check out this combo on the Great British Chefs website – steamed Scottish sea kale and white sprouting broccoli with crab, smoked cod roe and seaweed. Find sea kale on the menu at any restaurant and it will be cultivated stuff not wild because of the picking restrictions. I know an asparagus farm in Scotland that sells a limited amount of Crambe wholesale and the irrepressible Raymond Blanc grows it in his walled garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, putting it on the menu in season, serving it like asparagus. Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin has created a sea kale and blood orange salad.

Did Jarman himself ever eat sea kale? In Modern Nature he writes about gathering elderflower, frying it in batter and sprinkling it with sugar for supper, but food never seems a priority  

Those journals, which began with ecstatic lists of plants, end in a litany of the drugs that keep him alive. As he gradually loses his sight and his body shrinks he spends more time in hospital than at Dungeness, but a companion to the end at Prospect Cottage is sea kale.

February 10: “Replanted a row of sea kale in the back garden, my first gardening this year.

Then settled down to put the voice-over for the film (Blue, his last) in order. In the afternoon I walked to the sea and found the storms had washed away the shingle, exposing the sea kale. I gathered several very large specimens and replanted them in the front garden.”

May 6: “A week has passed without a cloud in the sky. At dawn the sea kale, a froth of white flowers, is covered with small copper butterflies drunk on nectar. They freeze as my shadow falls across them.” And on August 10 a last, frail mention of “bone-bleached sea kale”.

RIP Derek Jarman.

My wife is aiming for a new Kindle for Christmas. Helping to save trees. While I’m dreaming of a couple of fat tomes to occupy my stocking. Maybe not on the topics this website centres on. I’m not averse to fiction or books on German history. Hint.

Lockdowns saw me researching into some recherché culinary roads less travelled, hence of late I’ve purchased fewer new publications. So don’t expect any definitive overview from the 2021 suggestions below. Still much delight. In compiling my list I realised I had bookended it with two authors who have been with me most of my post-Beano reading life. Let’s salute two octogenarians who are the greatest living exemplars in their field – food scholar Claudia Roden, 85, and travel writer Colin Thubron, 82, both of whose books this year transcended all those feeble potboilers piled high around them. 

Med: A Cookbook by Claudia Roden (Ebury, £28)

On the cover of Roden’s first new book in a decade there’s praise from Yotam Ottolenghi: “To read Claudia is to sit at her table, with everything, simply, as it should be. Pull up a table for the food; stay at the table for the stories.” The author herself begins what is much more than a recipe book with the epigraph “Cooking is the landscape in a saucepan”. All of which neatly sums up the fault line, dotted with hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and a 1001 other treats, that lead from her groundbreaking A Book of Middle Eastern Food (1969) to the post-Millennium dinner parties inspired by her disciple Ottolenghi’s own oeuvre.

The Med reflects the fact that she has never rested on her scholarly laurels. Egyptian-born with Sephardic Jewish roots, Roden tapped into Spain with her last book, arguably my favourite of hers, and her latest offers a distillation of all her magpie-like culinary excavations radiating from the Mediterranean shores. Travel to Gaziantep, a Turkish city on the border with Syria via a green olive, walnut and pomegranate salad or investigate her pumpkin soup with orzo and amaretti, finding a new use for the traditional pasta filling of Mantua in Northern Italy. All this accompanied by evocative, anecdotal detail ranging from early family life in Aleppo via exile to Britain to the contemporary culinary mores of Barcelona.

Ripe Figs: Recipes From The Eastern Mediterranean by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury, £26) 

Claudia Roden us a hard act to follow but many cookery writers have mined that rich Mediterranean/Middle Eastern seam. I’ve been a huge fan of Yasmin Khan since her debut, The Saffron Tales (2016), which is as much about charting the lives of contemporary Iranians as their exquisite cuisine. Its successor, Zaytoun, inpected Palestinian food through an acutely political lens as she journeyed through kitchens in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Raised in Birmingham, the child of a Pakistani father and Iranian mother, she initially worked as a human rights activist. This is fully evident again if you look behind the handsomely illustrated pages of her third cookbook. It covers the food of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus with a set mission – to explore how migration has shaped cultures for the better… with food a vital litmus test.

Hence Ripe Figs is filled with the stories and recipes from families that have lived in the region for generations but alongside, in the midst of the global refugee crisis, she finds positive contributions from the displaced in the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos and elsewhere. In Istanbul kitchens she cooks with Kurds and in Northern Cyprus explores the thorny British colonial legacy. Fascinating reportage but the book is also a  trove of sun-filled recipes that celebrate how the joy of food can bring us all together.

Sicilia: A Love Letter to Sicily by Ben Tish (Bloomsbury, £26) 

Food and joy to me are synonymous with Sicily. Well maybe not gagging on spleen sandwiches from the street stalls of Palermo. I’m thinking proper tomatoes, lemons, capers, olive oil, ricotta salata, scaccia bread, cannoli and, of course, seafood. The image fronting this article is of the remarkable gambero rosso red prawns from the island’s South West Coast. These particular specimens were served to me with an orange dressing and thyme, in one of my final meals out before the first lockdown, at Norma in London’s Fitzrovia. This homage to Sicilian cuisine, with an inevitable Arabic influence, was created for the Stafford Collection by Ben Tish. In his matching ‘love letter’ he puts his own light stamp on a culinary melting pot of so many influences. It’s worth buying the book just for the pudding recipes.

An A-Z of Pasta by Rachel Roddy (Fig Tree, £25) 

Subtitled ‘Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes’, this is an alphabetical exploration of the quintessential Italian food from the Rome-based home cook, whose evocative despatches appear in The Guardian every Saturday. Does it supersede my super-stylish long-standing pasta primer, The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy (of Bocca di Lupo fame)? Neither can do full justice to the full range of Italian pasta shapes, estimated at over 500. She tackles 50, subdivided into six main categories, with 100 accompanying recipes to justify her claim that “pasta shapes are edible hubs of information”. if that sounds daunting just check out the recipes, most of which are eminently accessible. Tagliolini with datterini tomatoes and chanterelles? Or fresh capelli d’angelo with prawns and lemon. Pass the parmigiano, per favore.

To complete my Italian ‘course’ I’d like to recommend the pasta-driven Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (Fig Tree, £20), but this eagerly anticipated prezzie is still being loaded up at Santa’s Lapland HQ, I’m hoping. There’ll be hell to pay if I’m not tucking into the Big Night star’s comestible memoir amid the messy aftermath of a roast goose dinner.

A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (4th Estate, £30)

What’s not to like about chapters entitled ‘Sometimes You Just Want Pie’ or ‘The Stillness of Cheesecake’? Slater’s Observer column readers, he tells us, didn’t want prunes in a chicken and leek pie, so he has left them out for this book of 200 tried and tested recipes, which plays to his strength – a close kinship with his readers. As the title implies, he is a cook, not a chef. As home-based as his near namesake Nigella, he does not share her ease on telly. Still he writes like a cosy angel, drawing you into the foodie diary of his life. Think Alan Bennett with a well-stocked pantry. The Stillness of Cheesecake may read like a riff on Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Soufflés, anyone?) but it offers the homeliest of advice, too, alongside a slavering appreciation of food kept simple. And I quote: “A slice of cheesecake arrives on a small white plate. Cool, calm, silent. A sour whiff of buttermilk, the caramel sweetness of vanilla, Your fork slides through with barely a sigh.

“The sweet, fudgy filling can cloy after a mouthful. This pale and graceful pastry needs a pot of jam or fruit to waken it, and us, from its vanilla-scented slumber. A tart fruit compote will work – gooseberry, plum or apricot – or a little mound of baked rhubarb at its side.”

No space to digress into his discovery in San Sebastian of Basque cheesecake. Never been a huge fan of this over-praised pud, but Slater’s advocacy makes me want to attempt it again.

The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth, 2nd Edition (Workman, £30, also available in pb)

Beer really is more my thing than cheesecake and the ideal Christmas present for the ale lover in your life has to be this revised version of Alworth’s award-winning magnum opus, first published in 2015. Six years is a long time in the rapidly evolving world of craft beer and the Portland Oregon-based Beervana blogger has been perfectly placed to chart it. Take Manchester’s iconic Cloudwater Brewing – they were just starting out in 2015, fuelled by co-founder Paul Jones’ learning expedition to the American West Coast where Alworth mentored him in the hop-driven scene.

Now Cloudwater merits four pages in this massive, comprehensive work of reference that still has that personal touch in its appreciation of the world’s vast array of beer cultures. Even sake gets a look in this time round. What I particularly like about the book is its even-handedness, giving space to understand how mass market lagers might appeal. Manchester, too, is not just about Cloudwater and Marble (young head brewer Joe Ince makes the index) but traditional family brewers Hydes, Robinsons and JW Lees are also hailed.

Modern British Beer by Matthew Curtis (CAMRA Books, £15.99pb)

Another acclaimed beer writer liked Manchester so much he moved here permanently. Just after publication this autumn I met the LIncoln-raised writer/photographer at the Sadler’s Cat bar in the city centreto discuss its genesis – in a blog born out of a Damascene conversion to beer in Colorado a decade ago. In my interview/review I wrote: “New wave UK beer writers have codified the global beer styles that have been clarified/reinvented across America and then taken up over here. Matthew Curtis goes a step further and charts the creative melting pot of our own mash tuns and barrel ageing projects. Modern British Beer proves we are not just brewing lackeys; our own cask ale traditions remain the envy of the world, our own innovations the equal of anywhere.” 

The Curtis format certainly does the contemporary UK beer scene justice. The book is divided into seven regions with up to 15 breweries from each profiled via a defining beer style. It has already sparked a number of thirst-quenching pilgrimages. Check out this one to Sheffield’s St Mars of the Desert.

Modern British Cider by Gabe Cook (CAMRA Books, £15.99pb

On the surface a companion volume to MMB and, by chance I also spent a fascinating day  in the company of its author. the self-styled ‘Ciderologist’. Not in a bar this time but in the orchards of Dunham Press Cider, a northern outpost of a drink more associated with Somerset and Herefordshire. Later that day, at a tasting at GRUB in Manchester I even encountered a Scottish cider among a remarkable variety of styles.

In my subsequent report I wrote: “Rather than an artisan polemic, Modern British Cider is a careful summation that makes you want to sample all the delights he flags up in ‘The Most influential British Cider Makers Today’ chapter. In particular, to consider the contrasts between West Counties and East Counties, ie. made from tannic bittersweet cider apple varieties on the one hand and from fresher, fruitier dessert and culinary specimens on the other.”

So is all lovely in the orchard? The book is a fine gazetteer of where to find the good stuff but doesn’t fight shy of confronting the challenges for a tipple saddled with tarnished perceptions from the past. And, of course innovative ‘new wave cider’ has its own responsibility to its traditions. My Christmas suggestion – order this book and maybe treat yourself to a fine Pomona or Oliver cider to accompany your turkey or (apple-stuffed) goose.

A Cheesemonger’s Compendium of British and Irish Cheese by Ned Palmer (Profile, £14.99)

Cider, like beer, is a great accompaniment to cheese. And we’re not talking the token Christmas Stilton here. In 2014 Ned Palmer, schooled at Neal’s Yard Dairy, set up the Cheese Tasting Company to proselytise about the golden age of British cheese (it’s now). Two years ago his A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles beguilingly explored the artisan wonders at hand and the doughty makers who provide us with an alternative to the slabs of pap that dominate the supermarket shelves. A rollicking read from Ned but this follow-up is the book to slip in your pocket as you seek out a Baron Bigod or a Stinking Bishop or ask to compare a Montgomery Cheddar with a Keen’s Mature. It codifies, via style (mould-ripened, blue, washed rind, hard etc) 158 native cheeses, one to each page with a drawing and a succinct story and tasting note. Highly recommended. Next move is  find a good cheese shop. I’m lucky enough to have the outstanding Calder Cheesehouse just a 10 minute walk away in our little mill town of Todmorden. They do online, too. Visit this link. There’s still time before Christmas.

Wines of the Rhône by Matt Walls (Infinite Ideas, £30)

Early in 2021 I caught up with last year’s Noble Rot: Wine From Another Galaxy. I’d been reluctant to join Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew on their ebullient adventures since I’d already read some of them in their Noble Rot magazine. They’ve been busy boys this year too, opening a second Noble Rot restaurant, in the old Gay Hussar site in Soho and wine retail website, Shrine to the Vine. In prose, they have their finger on the pulse of the contemporary wine scene, opening up new paths.

Less showy is the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, sparsely illustrated, hugely comprehensive survey of countries or key regions, often written by experts with MW after their name. Matt Walls isn’t a Master of Wine but he is Contributing Editor to Decanter magazine, who uprooted his family to a village outside Avignon fo a couple of years In order to really get under the skin of France’s Rhône region, North and South. The result is a revelatory delight, a reference work full of wise judgements. As up to date as it gets and an inspiration for our Christmas dinner wine offering.

The Amur River by Colin Thubron (Chatto & Windus, £20)

It’s a truism that there is nowhere left on the planet to discover, making it increasingly difficult for travel writers to push the boundaries. Well, veteran explorer Colin Thubron, in his 83rd year, is not one to settle for the ‘we’re all tourists now’ get-out clause. Before reading this – in one transfixed sitting – I couldn’t pin the Amur on the map. Yet it is apparently the 10th longest river on earth, flowing 3,000 miles east from a secret source in the Mongolian mountains to the Tatar Strait. Thubron travels he entire length. What gives the book its tense socio-political edge is that much of the journey follows the highly fortified, much fought-over Russian-Chinese border. 

In his quest to chart how the Russian imperial dream died Thubron’s fortitude is astonishing. Early in the trip traversing fathomless bogs at a frantic trot he falls from his squat, primitive nag and twists his ankle badly. Later he brazens out an arrest by the local police. What transcends any sense of mere derring-do is his grasp of the Amur’s tragic history and, of course, his luminous prose. Witness: “To walk here is to wade through a tide of wildflowers: multicoloured asters, gentians, butter-coloured potentilla, peacock-blue columbines. Over farther slopes, swathes of blown edelweiss make a frosty pallor for miles.”

I’ve followed Thubron from his early books on the Middle East through his eye-opening explorations of Russia and China, but this arguably is his elegiac masterpiece. 

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet novels were set in a gritty, poverty-stricken Fifties Naples still recovering from the War. I came later than most to the best-selling saga of Elena and Lila, then devoured its 550,000 words with all the gusto I had brought to road-testing the pizzas of that chaotic, hypnotic city. 

Seventy years ago, as now, an idyllic escape route was offered by the hour ferry ride across the Gulf to Ischia. It was on a moonlit beach there that Elena lost her virginity in The Story of a New Name. My solo visit to this 17-square mile island out in the Bay of Naples was less life-changing but quite unforgettable.

Ischia teems with other ghosts – cinematic, musical and literary. This volcanic outcrop of hot springs and mud treatments may lack the sheer chocolate box glamour of rival Capri, but what an exotic, sometimes louche, backdrop it has been to the lives of numerous creative mavericks.

Capri boasts homespun Gracie Fields; Ischia WH Auden, William Walton, Luchino Visconti and their luminous guests. OK, much of this celebrity action was back in the Fifties and Sixties, when it was not the developed tourist destination it is today. The same is true of so many Mediterranean boltholes, yet against the odds Ischia retains a special dolce vita allure.

It helps that it has acted as location for at least 30 movies. It also hosts two annual film festivals. I gasped when I first reached Ischia Ponte, the picturesque extension of the island’s capital, Ischia Porte, and gazed upon the iconic citadel, Castello Aragonese, rearing 300ft above the sea across its causeway. Instantly recognisable from film noir The Talented Mr Ripley, where Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow play out their sardonic, sun-kissed endgame.

Off-screen movie melodrama came to Ischia four decades before when Richard Burton and Liz Taylor conducted their very open and controversial public affair on the island during the filming of Cleopatra in 1962. At the Bar Mara Caffe Internazionale in Forio town there’s no recognition they were once visitors alongside a starry cast that included Charlie Chaplin, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis.

The regular presence at Maria’s Cafe of great English poet Auden is marked by a framed photo with then owner Maria Senese, while other visitors have terrace tables named after them. I sipped a wheat beer with my legs under ‘Truman Capote’. Auden lived nearby in the summer with boyfriend Chester Kallman, forming a gay enclave that sometimes scandalised residents of this workaday port.

There is no trace left of the house they rented, so I pursued my quest for Ischia’s bohemian past by walking north along the coast back to my hilltop hotel base, San Montano Resort & Spa via two surviving monuments to artistic giants. It was a stiff climb up to the pine-clad Zaro promontory in the north east of the island that is home both to film director Luchino Visconti’s Moorish-style villa, La Colombaia (The Dovecot), and Oldham-born composer Sir William Walton’s world famous garden, La Mortella (The Myrtles).

La Colombaia, set deep in forested grounds, was rescued from a decade of neglect and relaunched as a museum and international school of film and theatre 20 years ago. In these difficult times the whole complex is closed, possibly for good. The ghosts remain. Here the rampantly bisexual director held open house. If walls could tell tales. When Aristotle Onassis ditched Mara Callas for Jackie Kennedy, here Visconti comforted Callas, who he had directed in La Traviata at La Scala. All three were his friends and frequent house guests.

A couple of miles away is a place with an altogether less turbulent past. The gardens of La Mortella were 50 years in the making. In 1958 Lady Susana Walton started transforming a quarry on the property her husband Sir William had bought, opening it to the public in 1991. Today, run by a private foundation, it is a spectacular sub-tropical and mediterranean garden featuring a working concert amphitheatre, a museum devoted to the composer (best known for Facade and Belshazzar’s Feast) and his pyramid-shaped tomb overlooking the sea. I liked the risque murals in the quasi pagan ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the world’s largest water lily, the gender-bending victoria amazonica, that flowers in the morning as a white petalled female and later in the day reopens as deep crimson petals and male organs. 

If you visit one attraction in Ischia, make it La Mortella, but note it is shut to the public from until April 2 2022. During the winter month the garden can be visited via a guided tour each Thursday. You must book in advance.

I was lucky it was an hour’s walk away from marvellous San Montano,which itself boasts a spectacular outlook in all directions. Down to its private beach 100m below or along the coast towards Ischia Porte. Perfect for sunrises and sunsets. My room with its own balcony shared these sublime vistas.

It is such a haven much of the clientele seemed happy to while away the afternoons around the fabulous pool complex or make full use of the light-filled Ocean Blue Spa with its hand-made Vietri tiles before dining in formal but relaxed style al fresco on the terrace. Dishes featuring plenty of fish, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, salad and herbs offered a deft take on traditional local cuisine. The local produce is magnificent.

A dinner excursion down to Lacco Amena town was exciting, too. Here at the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the Ristorante Indaco locally-born chef Pasquale Palamaro offers challenging tasting menus. It is situated in the L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, the only hotel on the island with its own beach – and a sense of a glorious celeb past. 

Both hotels have fabulous wine lists showcasing Campania on the mainland and Ischia’s own specific grape heritage. Key local producer is the acclaimed D’Ambra winery, which has championed varieties native to the island such as Biancolella, Forastera, and Rilla white varieties, and Piedirosso and Guarnaccia for reds.

I tasted the range in the company of Andrea d’Ambra, who is assisted in th winemaking these days by his daughters Marina and Sara, then went on a vertiginous car ride up  to the Frassitelli vineyard that is their pride and joy, four hectares clinging to a mountainside 600m up en route for Monte Epomeo, the slumbering volcano that dominates the island. Great walking all around, aided by a colour-coded footpath network.

Frassitelli, the flagship white produced here from Biancolella, also hits the heights. Peachy on the nose, it is piercingly fruity, with a hint of salt, on the palate. Visconti helped design distinctive labels for D’Ambra when they were finding their feet in markets beyond the island.

 Visible from the vineyards on the southern coast is Sant’Angelo, loveliest spot on the island. All whitewashed cubes and pricey boutiques and fish restaurants, it lies on an isthmus in the lee of a volcanic hump (they are everywhere – Lacco Amena has a tufa outcrop called Il Fungo because it resembles a mushroom. 

Here most of all on this lush, less developed side Ischia lives up to its sobriquet of the Emerald Isle. No cars or buses are allowed in Sant’Angelo, so it is a tranquil spot to people watch on the beach or grab a beer and a pizza.

I covered so much of the island on foot there was no time left to take to the hot springs. Those in the know recommend Negombo, which is next door to San Montano’s private beach. This ‘thermal garden’ covers 22 hectares with a variety of mineral baths, jacuzzi and Turkish bath. You buy a day pass. Probably a great place to relax and gather your strength before being ferried back from vibrant, villagey Ponte Ischia (below) to the urban maelstrom that is Naples.

Getting there

I flew into Naples and then travelled to Ischia by Alilauro hydrofoil on the 9th at 2.35pm (alt 3.30). Get there 45 minutes before and tell them you have luggage. Alilauro ticket office is at Molo Beverello (Napoli’s Port).

A version of this article first appeared on Manchester Confidential.

A Christmas pudding with custard is an unlikely adjunct to a Sunday lunch at a restaurant trumpeting its allegiance to ‘Modern Middle Eastern-influenced dining and bar culture’, but then a main of plain roast lamb hardly counts as a shawarma either. 

Yet who the hell cares about sticking exactly to the brief when both dishes taste so good? Michelin has been swift to recognise the talent of head chef Craig Rutherford and his Habas team, manifesting the long-term vision of Simon Shaw (below) to expand eastwards from his Iberian-inspired El Gato Negro and Canto.

The orangey, spicy pud was a seasonal special on a menu significantly short on turkey and sprouts, though the warm, exotically cluttered 200-cover basement would be ideal for a festive gathering without all the predictable trimmings.

Let’s call the Christmas pudding an honorary Levantine treat. After all, when the dish originated in the 14th century it was made with hulled wheat, boiled in milk, seasoned with cinnamon and coloured with saffron. Familiar spices from the Middle East to the fore and what started as a plain dish was soon augmented with mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, figs, ground almonds and further spices – savoury and sweet touches that feel decidedly Middle Eastern.

Lamb, not mutton, represents Habas’ Sabbath roast of choice for £17. Across the table it arrives as generous slices of seared half shoulder, tender and pink. The regional remit kicks in with the accompaniments. Labneh (creamy strained Greek yoghurt) brings a delicacy to cauliflower cheese, there’s a sticky oomph to the carrots thanks to sumac and orange honey, while the solid roasted spuds are lifted by black garlic and mint. Oh yes and thankfully not a Yorkshire pudding in sight.

Roasted squash and sautéed kale understandably replace cauli cheese as sides for my vegan alternative – harissa roasted cauliflower (£15). Sumac? Harissa? For those of you unfamiliar with the output of one Yotam Ottolenghi there’s a glossary prefix to the menu. Even I, a devotee of Persian dried black limes, barberries and golpar, have to double check what zhug is.

My daughter and I had kicked off with a £10.50 mezze platter that really did showcase the quest for authenticity that drove chef patron Simon Shaw’s recces in Lebanon and the cuisine-in-exile cafes of London. The hummus is as good as it gets with the  baba ganoush and whipped labneh not far behind. The breads were less impressive, the toasted lavosh brittle, the tiny pittas and the flatbread hosting crumbled halloumi and za’atar (a separate dish for £4) lacking a certain fluffiness.

Maybe Habas suffers in comparison with London big hitters in the field such as Palomar or Barbary but it has settled into the groove it promised. Likewise stablemate Canto in Ancoats, whose initial promise was Portuguese cuisine but which had to swiftly recalibrate as ‘Mediterranean tapas’. I loved my return recently. There is no such miscomprehension, I feel, about this latest Shaw project in the old Panama Hatty’s site. 

One guarantee at any of the restaurants: octopus will be done well. At Habas it was a toss-up for an ‘intermezzo’ between a long-standing fave, filo ‘cigars’ stuffed with feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato, and the chargrilled octopus (£12), curled up inside a bed of smoked aubergine and tomato. Utterly gorgeous, it’s the kind of small plate, along with spot-on service, that must have impressed the Michelin inspectors inside five months of the restaurant (and its bolthole of a bar) opening. We’ll have to wait and see whether it will be garlanded with a Bib Gourmand like El Gato or a Plate like Canto. I suspect the latter.

It being lunchtime we snubbed the inviting bar and its cocktail list (Middle Eastern inspired naturally) in favour of a light red. Well, that was the plan. Our Ribas del Cúa Joven 2018 (£27) from Northern Spain offered a juicy riot of red and black fruits on nose and palate as you’d expect from the Mencia grape. As a Joven I anticipated it would be on the light side. Not so. 14.5 per cent, yet it didn’t feel a bruiser. Main supplier is the estimable Miles Corish of Milestone and all wines on the list are available by the glass in various sizes – apart from the show-off fizzes and the 1998 Chateau Musar, legendary red from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (one of the staging points on Simon Shaw’s journey towards Habas, as it happens. 

£110 and the Musar is yours. Alternatively for Sunday lunch you may bring your own wine for just £5 corkage on all bottles. Another big plus from this obvious labour of love in difficult times. Fi sihtuk! (cheers in Arabic)

Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJJ. 0161 470 9375. Monday-Sunday 12pm-late; food service until 10pm.

I’ve been contemplating ice this week. No, not the hazardous stuff that comes with the wind chill factor and a chance of compound fracture. More the gleaming pure lozenge enveloped by a Negroni.

I’m greeted by one on my arrival at Mecanica, our server Ellie embellishing with “We’ve heard you’re partial to one”. Two or three actually, but I’m at the bar to sample a range of the creative house cocktails, not a stone cold classic. Though like any cocktail bar worth its salt they’ll rustle up whatever you request.

Wine was the selling point of the previous occupant of this site on the busy corner of Oldham Street and Swan Street, but The Quick Brown Fox was never busy and shut all too quickly. I can see Mecanica having a less transitory shelf life – as one of Manchester’s key cocktail destinations. Which bring us to the nice ice touch.

It was such a sparkling snug fit I assumed my Negroni (Martin MIller gin, Campari, Cocchi) was sharing the tumbler with one of those bought-in designer ice cubes. Arch rivals Schofield’s Bar source theirs from Chas Ayres’ cutting edge Black Ice CPD Ltd.

No, like Speak In Code bar, another of the city’s cocktail elite, Mecanica make their own. General manager Phil Aldridge (pictured above) explained: “We use a process known as ‘directional freezing’ where we take a container thats insulated on all sides apart from one, this means the ice freezes from the top down forcing the impurities to the bottom (as the more impurities in the water the lower the freezing point).

“We then remove this from the freezer, dispose of the unclear ice and then break down the clear ice into smaller more manageable pieces by hand. These are then hand chipped down into the perfect size for our rocks glass. Its time consuming and takes a lot of keeping on top of, but it’s cheaper than buying it in and infinitely more rewarding.”

The same attention to detail goes into the in-house preparation of most of the cocktail ingredients (of which more later). It takes a dedicated, trained staff to make this work and all six bartenders get a picture testimonial in the Team section of the website. This add-on always reminds me of those movies where the closing credits incorporate snapshot epilogues of what  will happen to all the characters in the future.

But instead of ‘died in Vietnam’ or ‘became an itinerant preacher man’ it namechecks each’s favourite cocktail. Zombie is Ellie’s, which is appropriately cineaste, since two concoctions she has created for the Mecanica list are film-themed. We also tried tipples from Dom, Jack and Adam (Phil and Rory, promise we’ll sample your contributions next time).

See You in Half an Hour (£9.50) is a fruity mix of Suze Aperitif, St Germain, Chazalettes bianco vermouth, with a red wine float and and almond mist for their aromatic qualities. “Reproducing the visual aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s 2007 short Hotel Chevalier, the drink makes multiple references to the characters’ fleeting romance in the titular backdrop.” Phew.

Well, it has put Hotel Chevalier on my streaming bucket list and I’m glad to confirm Ellie and I are devotees of Anderson’s Grand Hotel Budapest and Ralph Fiennes’ comic tour de force but agree to differ on Isle of Dogs. Not the kind of conversation sparked by 2-4-1 happy hour service in Slug and Lettuce.

The 1981 comedy, Arthur, is Ellie’s inspiration for Between the Moon and New York City (£9.50), definitely my punchy kind of cocktail, incorporating Bulleit rye whiskey,  Bitter Rose Moonshine, all rosehip and elderberry, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and peach bitters. It’s a line from the theme tune to the movie which follows Dudley Moore as a drunken millionaire who spends his days drinking in the hotel room he calls home.

There’s a further comic backdrop to Jack’s A Touch of Class (£11.50), named after the 1975 pilot episode of Fawlty Towers, and so paying homage to Basil Fawlty and the hapless Manuel. Indeed basil herb dominates in a delightful way, adding  surprisingly savoury bacon note to this blend of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Cocchi Americano vermouth, clementine and champagne.

I loved it. Just the kind of cocktail you’d never get at a hotel of the calibre of Fawlty Towers. ‘Touch of Class’ alludes to Basil’s snobbish aspirations for it. To quote the script… Basil: If we can attract this class of customer then the sky’s the limit. Sybil: Basil, 22 rooms is the limit. Basil: Have you seen the people in room six. They’ve never sat on chairs before.”

The cannier of you may have twigged by now that a connecting theme in all these cocktails is HOTELS. Mecanica declares itself a ‘No-tel’ bar, promising the hotel bar experience without the hotel and yet inspired by the world’s best hotel bars… in sumptuous surroundings. Certainly the sophisticated interior belies the plain frontage but more importantly for me the slightly random hotel pegging doesn’t feel a distracting  imposition.

The theme is up there with Speak In Code current record sleeve inspired drinks menu and the ambitious ‘Japanese Idioms’ list developed by Gethin Jones at Cottonopolis a few years back. I like lists that tell stories.

Fear and Loathing (£10.50) courtesy of Adam, is a rollercoaster a cocktail ride as you’d expect from its inspiration, Hunter S. Thompson’s novel later adapted into the 1998 film featuring Johnny Depp and various oddballs holed up in a hotel sipping Singapore Slings and Mezcal. This bittersweet homage is appropriately in your face, blending Koch Mezcal, D.O.M Benedictine, passion fruit liqueur, a Sipello and grapefruit shot and, a new one for me, citrus squid ink.

You get a subtler but equally powerful buzz from El Convento (£10). It’s based on an actual hotel in a convent building dating back to 1646, neighbour of the oldest cathedral in Puerto Rico. Has creator Dom been there? Or is the Latin holy trinity of olive oil washed Barsol Pisco, Cocchi Americano and pickled chilli just a tot of inspired cultural appropriation?

Finally, a five star hotel I’ve actually stayed in a couple of times – Ashford Castle at Cong in County Galway. It was home to the Guinness family in the 19th century, so the eponymous dark stout features in Dom’s super smooth Ashford Estate (£10) along with nutmeg, orange and Roe & Co Irish Whiskey, whose creamy texture is enhanced by milk washing.

Not a term you’re acquainted with? Olive oil washed too? Let’ close with dip into the behind the scenes teamwork that makes Mecanica quite special.

Over to Phil again, the ringmaster of this project with a CV that impresses (from  Sokyo, a high-end Japanese bar in Sydney to MIchelin-starred Mana in Ancoats):

“For our home made ingredients we use a number of different methods and techniques, the majority of our ‘fresh’ ingredients are made in a water bath that’s heated using an immersion circulator set to around 54 degrees. This is the perfect temperature to both speed up the process of infusing flavour without exposing the ingredients to direct, intense heat. 

“We’re aiming to stay away from the idea of cooking or caramelising, the maillard reaction or anything that will alter the chemical structure of the amino acids and sugar compounds found in our ingredients (unless on purpose of course), changing the fresh flavour we’re trying so hard to preserve. 

“There are processes such as ‘fat washing’, cold infusion and elements of fermentation, shrub and brining included on our menu. We also have access to things like centrifugal juicers and chamber vacuum machines, allowing us to extract flavour from nearly any ingredient we choose to work with, which when you work with the seasons, can be very valuable. 

“We then store everything under vacuum to prevent oxidisation, preserve flavour and cut down on the need for excessive storage space.”

It is not just our restaurants – the likes of Mana, Where The Light Gets In and the Moorcock at Norland – with their foraging, fermenting and passion for ingredients that are the contemporary cutting edge cauldrons. The cocktail scene at Mecanica’s level is equally vibrant.

Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Wednesday and Thursday 3pm-12am; Friday and Saturday 12pm-1am; Sunday 12pm-12am. Bar snacks include handmade flatbreads and cheese and charcuterie from the Butcher’ Quarter. The wine list is better than at mot cocktail bar, too. 

Check out Mecanica’s festive packages HERE. Also every advance booking of four or more this New Year’s Eve will receive a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when purchasing a round of cocktails