Serendipity? You bet. What are the chances of booking a dining destination to celebrate a ‘big’ birthday and in the intervening months it wins its second Michelin star and three days before your stay gets elevated to the UK’s number one restaurant?

Ynyshir was already a hot ticket for the foodie who likes to be challenged; now chef Gareth Ward and his design-savvy partner Amelia Eiriksson are having to fend off a press pack desperate to find out what all the fuss is about on this distant edge of Wales.

We already had a fair inkling. We holed up there exactly six years ago and adored the embryo project the pair had embarked on after taking full ownership. Since when we’ve traced from afar the radical transformation of this once whitewashed hunting lodge outside Machynlleth, once owned by Queen Victoria. A doom-laden redecoration, a ram’s skull motif and brown sheepskin throws off a Game of Thrones set, a soundtrack rumoured to make Nine Inch Nails sound like loungecore and a 32-course Japanese-influenced tasting menu that has ‘imminent overdraft’ written all over it. Bring it on.

Some time after we had polished off 15 fish courses – riffs on lobster, shrimp, scallop, crab, hamachi, blue fin, black cod and madai via a sensual overload of nahm jim, wasabi, yuzu, miso, sesame– Ynyshir really kicked off. A volcanic fire pit was ignited outside the window while a mirror ball pierced every corner of the penumbral dining room and I could have sworn the DJ ratcheted up the decibels.

Luckily we had been assigned one of two tables by the window and Captain Smidge, our gourmet chihuahua, had snuggled down on a rug oblivious to the hubbub, even missing the Wagyu beef three ways which he would have wolfed. Most of the dishes would have been far too spicy for him and anyway most were one-bite size. Hard to pick a favourite. The Welsh lamb spare ribs were sensational, ditto the blue fin tuna, the scallop with duck liver or the miso cured black cod with aged kaluga.

Impeccably behaved Smidge had been given special dispensation to sleep in the main house and to join us and 22 other souls on Yynyshir’s epic culinary voyage. The large couple from Essex, who had booked the chef’s table, looked quite blown away by the perfect storm of the adjacent kitchen brigade, with Gareth Ward as Captain Ahab on the bridge, silhouetted against the flaming grill.

A quiet date place this ain’t, yet our dinner experience had started in calm fashion on our arrival at 3pm. Like the other guests, we were invited to ‘check in’ for the meal before being shown to our rooms. Overnight stays are part of the package. 

In turn you are taken out from your lounge drink to be introduced to a large box of raw produce that is the inspiration for the dishes ahead. Beware getting nipped by the live crab. Your MC then composes a taster bowl of ‘Not French Onion’. It was a signature statement in 2016 – Japanese dashi stock flavoured with onion oil, diced tofu, pickled shallots, sea vegetables, onion and miso purée and brown butter croûtons. I conjecture this chawanmushi (savoury custard) has been refined but it remains utterly delicious. 

Next up is a session with Ynyshir sommelier Rory Eaton to discuss your wine (or sake) requirements for the evening. The list has stratospheric bottles but also a few you’d class as accessible. We went middle ground by the glass – Alsace Pinot Gris, South African Chenin Blanc, Chablis, South African Pinot Noir and a Barolo. Rory, a class act, remained attentive to our vinous needs throughout the evening. 

A similar professionalism pervades the operation. Three days before, on the Monday Gareth and Amelia had to be leant on to make the trek to London, where they triumphed at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards. No over the top celebrations, mind. Tuesday, 200 miles away, was to be business as usual. Even a scalded foot wasn’t keeping Gareth from the pass. Having risen through the ranks at Hambleton Hall and Sat Bains, the towering County Durham lad is nothing if not driven. Do not expect him to cater for your dietary requirements. You are there to eat HIS food.

In a corridor near our ground floor room hung a chef’s jacket proclaiming Yynyshir’s two Michelin star status. That achievement arrived through a deliberate policy to shake up expectations of country house dining. On our first visit it was a benign luxury country retreat. Not chintzy old school, but certainly decorous, quite at odds with the Japanese techniques/lamb fat base of dishes coming out of the kitchen. Hand in hand with a ramping up of the Orient influences and an obsessive investment in the finest raw materials (local, yes, but if the best has to be imported, so be it) came that radical reworking of the look of the place, inside and out. 

Moody dark blue and grey makes a statement. As does the two teepees viewed across rewilded grounds, thronged with chest-high ox-eye daisies on our visit. They were our vista as we opted to sample the first five courses outside by the (unlit) fire pit, revelling in the kind of heat wave rarely encountered around the Dyfi estuary. 

Fortunately, our ground floor bedroom – yes, moody dark blue decor – was cool in every sense. Not that we had much time to spend in the space that was formerly the lounge/bar area (before and after above). Ynyshir is a high octane experience.

By the time we reached the seven puddings, including a playful Alphonso take on a Bakewell, we were flagging, yet rallied around an old acquaintance from first time around. Gareth’s deconstructed ‘tiramisu’ is a great splatter of coffee cake puree, vanilla mayo, chilli crémant gel, coffee, mascarpone granita and a grating of intense 100 per cent chocolate.

The finale? Well, no. Further Valrhona in an ‘after dessert’ in the bar. Single origin Madagascar Manjari daringly paired with shitake mushroom and kaffir lime… a final stroke of genius from a remarkable, unique restaurant experience.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA. 01654 781209. Lunch or dinner £350. Prices start at £495 per person for a house room plus dinner (drinks extra). The grounds are also home to a ‘pub with casual dining’ marquee, Legless Fach. Check out my original Ynyshir review and discover the nearby shrine to austere priest poet RS Thomas, the amazing RSPB reserve over the hill and the charms of eco-friendly Machynlleth.

Glastonbury 2002’s over. Just the stragglers still dispersing as the litter clearers descend. The wag who flew a ‘Work Event’ flag by the Pyramid stage has furled it up and taken it home with his washing, probably still humming ‘Hey Jude’.

My big festivals preview was about the beer variety. Hence my rallying cry: ‘Go Aleish, not Eilish!’ Though several fests have already been and gone the thirst for such communal participation shows no sign of abating and what is great to see is the emphasis on championing our local brewing operations.

Prominent among these is Track Brewing Co, which has never looked back since upsizing from its Piccadilly railway arch to large and stylish new brewery and taproom in Ardwick, Manchester. . They seem to be leading the way with collabs with other breweries and recently significantly upgraded their food offering by hosting a kitchen takeover by Liverpool-based restaurant group Maray, who are close to opening their new Manchester venue in Lincoln Square.

Food is a big deal in the first of two further Manchester mini-festivals they are helping generate this summer. Beers In The Garden will take place in Platt Fields on Friday and Saturday, July 8-9, curated by Track and Cheltenham’s Deya and featuring stellar names such as North Brewing, Burning Sky, Verdant, Pressure Drop, Newbarns, Donzoko and, a personal fave, St Mars of the Desert.

The food on offer? Pizza from Honest Crust and barbecue from Where The Light Gets In. The MUD kitchen will prepare dishes using ingredients from the garden there and Levenshulme’s ISCA will offer seasonal dishes and natural wines. The will be four sessions; tickets at £10 available here.

On Saturday, August 27, celebratinga successful first nine months in their new home on the Piccadilly Trading Estate (and the arrival of their beer garden), Track bring us Welcome to the Neighbourhood. There are two sessions with tickets £40 a head, to include all DRAUGHT beer at the festival, a glass and a programme. Tickets available here.

For your money you’ll have access to beers from an amazing array of North West stars – including Track, of course, Rivington, Sureshot, Balance, Red Willow, Pomona Island, Chain House, Bundobust, Squawk, Runaway, Cloudwater and Blackjack – plus DJ and street food. 

The first four days in September see the bucolic Farm Trip festival. Venue a hilltop farm-based brewery above Horwich I have lauded previously For its outstanding views and brews – Rivington (founder Ben Stubbs, above). Their first Trip was hastily assembled in 2021; the follow-up is more measured, promising 120 beers poured through 41 lines. Do check it out.

It’s a nice little autumn chaser before the eagerly anticipated return of Indy Man Beer Con  at Victoria Baths (September 29-October 2), the UK’s best craft beer festival. Capitalising on its absence last year, the Manchester Craft Beer Festival, is heading back to Mayfield Depot, across the weekend of July 22-23. Expect fire pit food and sizzling sounds from Goldie and David Holmes. All a bit high octane for me and to get full value beerwise out of the £55 session ticket you have to be a very canny queue hopper. The likes of Marble, Track and Union Lager are representing Manchester, but this is very much a national brand that straddles several UK cities.

Before then another metropolitan cuckoo descends. Camden Town Brewery Tank Party Roadshow is nesting at neighbouring Escape to Freight Island on Friday, June 24 and Saturday 25.A single brewery tour hardly counts as a festival really, even coming with its own raft of DJ and street(ish) food. The selling point is its unfiltered version of Hells Lager with an estimated 23,000 pints being poured ‘fresh from the tank’ during the Party’s parade across the UK. Camden’s owners, ABV Inbev, the world’s largest brewing operation, sure know how to market a very ordinary product.

I’d recommend, in these difficult times for our breweries: Think Local, Drink Local.

We went for dinner to Hawksmoor Manchester the other night. It’s been a while. We avoided Monday because that’s BYOB day with just £5 corkage to pay, so I guessed it might be rammed. ‘Slowish’ Tuesday it was then and, to our amazement, there wasn’t a table to be had by mid-evening… or a dry glass in the house. We were in the roaring dining room by 6.30pm and the last sharing porterhouse had already been snaffled 20 minutes before. Damn you, carnivores of impeccable taste.

If you associate Hawksmoor only with steaks think again and settle down in the Manchester bar

No regrets, though, that we’d been detained in the penumbral clutches of the bar to sample the five fresh cocktails that constitute the upmarket steakhouse’s Summer Collection. You wouldn’t consider Miller & Carter or even Gaucho (and definitely not your local Toby Carvery) on the strength of the mixology team. At Hawksmoor it’s different. Quick flashback to a vanished age before vegans roamed the high street. Seven years ago I joined a charm offensive press pack ferried to London to gauge what all the fuss was about on the eve of this critically acclaimed outfit’s arrival in Manchester. Their latest conquest has been New York but no plane tickets in the mail, as yet, alas.

The food quality blew us away, especially the meat, with wines that made a splendid match. We visited four of their venues in the day. Somewhere along the line, probably in the Spitalfields original (above), we encountered the cocktail list that was an integral part of the Hawksmoor experience. The original list was created back in 2006 by the legendary Nick Strangeway and Liam Davy, who is still going strong as Head of Bars (his son Jack is now manager  of the Deansgate Manchester venue). Check out the Hawksmoor classics and you’ll find the hardy perennial, Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew, the ultimate gin-fuelled ‘power shandy’ and the Fuller-Fat Old Fashioned, which I explored in a recent blog.

For the Father’s Day just past Liam devised Midsummer Old Fashioned, mixing Johnnie Walker Blue Label, salted Oxfordshire honey and cold brew camomile tea, topped with a cube of white chocolate fudge. 

That’s now off the menu because it’s not really seasonal. So how did the Summery Five –  launched at the same time and available until mid-September – fare?

Green Snapper is a verdant riff on Bloody Mary. Five a day in a glass almost to send chlorophyll coursing through my veins. Forgive any nutritional, botanical inaccuracies;  this is a zinger. Beefeater Gin’s the base, muddled with green tomato, jalapeno, lime, cucumber and lovage.

Factor 50 Fizz pales in comparison, but then I’m not a spritz fan. It hardly feels alcoholic this mix of Lillet Rose, strawberry, cucumber and sparkling coconut water.

Rimini Iced Tea – Fellini’s home town (Amarcord in the movie of the name) is the tenuous inspiration for this cooler because of the reputation of its peaches. That fruit, basil and sparkling Darjeellng tea make a refreshing  match with ultra-sustainable Avallen Calvados.

R.A.C. Aviation is a classic rhubarb & custard combo. Made with Bombay Sapphire 1er Cru, rhubarb cordial, vanilla, lemon and maraschino. Surprisingly tart, it’s properly summery.

Moselle Martini is my favourite of the five, mellow and approachable with an indefinable complexity. It’s made with Fords gin, cucumber, Riesling vermouth and pear eau de vie.

No Porterhouse – how did we pull through?

Our daughter’s dog Toro gnawed our doggie bag T-bone with great gusto. We adored the steak that was once attached in the company of a soft, summery Pinot Noir from the Loire. Creamed spinach, anchovy hollandaise, triple-cooked chips, heritage tomato salad. To start we shared beef carpaccio and scallops cooked in the shell with White Port. Never lets you down.

Hawksmoor Manchester, 184-186 Deansgate, M3 3WB. 0161 836 6980.

On Dunster seafront stands a statue of a certain Ancient Mariner, obligatory albatross around his neck. A selfie prop gull, very much alive, flutters on his head for our shot. Behind, a quote from the Coleridge ballad is daubed on the harbour wall: “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, the furrow followed free”. They make much of the great Romantic poet in these parts. The Somerset port has tenuous claims to be the inspiration for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Perhaps lines such as “merrily did we drop/Below the kirk, below the hill, below the lighthouse top” were penned in the Bell Inn when Coleridge stayed there. He regularly walked the 10 miles west from his home at Nether Stowey in the Quantock Hills in the last three years of the 18th century.

The 50 mile ‘Coleridge Way’ that starts there bypasses Watchet on its meandering path to Lynmouth in Devon via the fringes of Exmoor, offering tangible links to another of his great poems, Kubla Khan. Of which more shortly. Lorna Doone Country is along the route, too, if you plan a homage to RD Blackmore’s historical romance of 1869 with a cream tea… or, in our case, a pint of Exmoor Gold by the East Lyn River at Brendon village’s Staghunters Inn.

This was just six miles from our base near Lynton, more attractive hilltop sibling of seaside resort Lynmouth. Shelley spent his honeymoon there in 1812. Further proof of the irresistible picturesque allure of this whole coastline to the Romantic poets. 

Take Watersmeet, the wooded gorge that descends to the sea here. Very much the “deep romantic chasm” of Kubla, albeit these days under the auspices of the National Trust. As is the Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey. You don’t have to be in thrall to the West Country coming together of Wordsworth and Coleridge ahead of the publication of Lyrical Ballads but it helps. Their communal Quantocks bonding and radical literary departures in 1797-98 are charted in a very hands-on way in Adam Nicolson’s The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and Their Year of Marvels (William Collins, £25).

Laid-back Nether Stowey is a very copacetic starting point to retrace their steps. The Coleridge Cottage is hardly stimulating. It doesn’t convey the bohemian muddle of the young Coleridge family somehow getting by in far from idyllic conditions. Today it’s a quintessential Somerset village to hang loose in.

Much more fun, though, was our next port of call, the aforementioned Watchet, a couple of miles off the A39. There’s a plethora of quirky indie shops and galleries plus a clutch of welcoming pubs. Just the one then? Definitely colourful Pebbles Tavern on Market Street, which boasts a comprehensive cider list alongside cask ales and shanty sessions. Fo something rockier maybe the equally colourful gig venue, The Esplanade.

Speaking of pebbles, I tripped up over the St Decuman Pebble Mosaic at the end of the Esplanade. This public work of art celebrates this seventh century holy man, who crossed over from Wales on his cloak with a cow for company. After settling he made enemies and was beheaded. Upon which he picked up his head, washed it and reattached it to his neck. The impressed locals helped him build a church. I too feel a ballad coming on.

Inland from Watchet a visit to picture postcard Dunster with its castle is a must, if you avoid high season. Of the many thatched villages dotted around the National Trust’s Holnicote estate the pick is Selworthy, with the bonus of its unusually Italianate lime-washed church with stupendous views across fields and woodland.    

But back to the coastal Coleridge pilgrimage (in the literary company of Mr Nicolson) and Porlock next. Kubla Khan allegedly came to the poet in a dream and he was busy writing it down when he was interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’ and lost his thread, leaving it unfinished. The location of this momentous interruption? Coleridge recalled: “At a Farm House between Porlock & Linton, a quarter of a mile from Culbone church, in the fall of th year, 1797, in a sort of Reverie brought brought on by two grains of Opium, taken to check a dysentery.”

It’s nigh on 40 years since we last visited Culbone, which “can justly claim to be the smallest (in floor area), most isolated and most picturesque in England by Simon Jenkins in his magisterial England’s Thousand Best Churches. Probably Saxon in origin, its wooded combe once housed a leper colony. To reach it we walked the three and a half miles up from Porlock Weir, climbing steeply through oak and chestnut with the sea glinting to our right. The jury’s out, by the way, on which farmhouse Coleridge was staying at and if it still standing.

The Weir, a little harbour among the shingle is prettier than Porlock proper, a real sun trap offering cafes, a decent pub and Porlock Bay Oysters, among the best in the country. Owner Mark from his quayside shack shucked a couple of free ones to show just how sweet and saline they are.

North Devon is not far off and the Coastal Path will take you along the cliff tops all the way to Lynmouth. By road, your gears will be sorely tested by Porlock Hill; your reward magnificent views from the switchback A39 of the distant sea one way and the wild  uplands of Exmoor. Do slow down if one of the semi wild Exmoor ponies strays across.

Low gear is required as Countisbury Hill swoops spectacularly down to Lynmouth. That resort is very much geared towards tourism. I was happy to take the unique Cliff Railway, a water-powered funicular that takes you up the high cliff to Lynton, which has more interesting shops and a community-run cinema. We were staying in a cottage at Barbrook to the north. One night we dined on Thai cuisine at the quirky Old Cottage Inn; and on the last night ordered a takeaway from Spicy Mare, a South Indian operation run by a retired air stewardess with a passion for Kerala. The best foodie adventure, though, was to buy a beef box from West Ilkerton Farm, which has pioneered the revival of the Devon Ruby breed.

We had a great walk to Watersmeet House, the NT tea room in the spectacular gorge, but preferred the coastal path route, feral goats and all, westward to the Valley of the Rocks, the apogee of sublime romantic scenery, a riot of fossiliferous ancient stones. And, yes,

Wordsworth and Coleridge and their poetic contemporary Robert Southey all trekked there. For the Romantics rocks were their rock and roll.

Is my ‘Weeaboo’ (look it up) brother working his way through the letter T in the Japanese foodie lexicon? First up for my Christmas present he provided me with the kit to create Takoyaki; now for my birthday a Tamagoyaki pan set arrived. 

I mastered the former delicacy, fried octopus in crispy dashi batter doughnuts; more practice may be needed for the latter,  a rolled omelette geared towards breakfast or the bento box (lunch box). Perhaps on the pan’s debut the four month-old kimchi filling was a soggy step too far. I care not that Korea intruded; the Japanese are not always purist at the snackier end of their cuisine. Still maybe a toasted wafer of nori might have been a better bet. Dashi soup stock is also popular with grated daikon radish perhaps.

With the rectangular pan, pink as sakura cherry blossom, came, equally roseate, a brush for oiling and a paddle for omelette flipping. Oh and a black oblong plate on which to slice and display my Tamagoyaki. My brother kept the tee-shirt.

Ingredients were lined up. Four very fresh eggs to be beaten with the inclusion of one tablespoon of soy sauce, the same amount of mirin (I fought shy of recommended sugar) and a pinch of salt. A splash of cooking oil brushed onto the 8in x 4in pan (called a Makiyakinabe), on a medium heat and we are ready to start. Entry level stuff. It could all be more delicate but it’s early days..

Add a third of your egg mix into the heated pan. Once the egg has cooked slightly so that the top is still slightly uncooked, spread on a third of the kimchi, push it over to the side of your pan, turning over. Add oil. Then add another third of the egg mix, allow to cook slightly and add another third of the kimchi. Turn over again. Add oil. Repeat all this for a final time, rolling up to create layers. Lift gently on to black plate, let it cool and then slice horizontally.

Had it turned out the neat cylinder so suited to sushi selection (see main image)? Not really, but I’ll be working on it. Here’s how the experts do it:

Regular readers of this website may have registered my passion for charcuterie. Be it the remarkable Italian artisanal products championed by one of my local haunts, Coin in Hebden Bridge or the Modena poaching sausage Cotechino replicated by a Liverpool charcutier trained in South West France.

British charcuterie has remained under the radar but, like our wine and cheeses, is now promoting itself as a real contender against continental opposition that has been curing or  smoking the stuff for centuries. Our own traditional brawns, haslets, chines, potted meats, even hams, are a whole different matter. We may have left Europe but when it comes to  a sharing platter it seems it has to be that French term charcuterie.

In Manchester I’ve recently enjoyed a selection (above) from Curing Rebels at Flawd wine bar whose chef/co-owner Joseph Otway is a huge fan of his fellow Brightonians, while the strong Scottish influence at the Butcher’s Quarter (Tib Street and Deansgate Mews) has seen them featuring nduja and salamis from Edinburgh’s East Coast Cured. A widely available pioneer, using no nitrates in their charcuterie, is an old favourite, Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire and the outstanding Cobble Lane Cured flies the flag for London across some prestigious establishments.

What all the operations have in common is combining curing skills gleaned from Europe’s finest with Britain’s exceptional raw materials.

Yorkshire border based, I’m happy enough to rely on Porcus three miles away as the pig flies, but there is Tyke competition from the multi-award-winning Lishman’s of Ilkley, who’ve stuffed a lot into 35 years of sausage making, pies, bacon and all things porky.

I’ve come late to their salami, though, the high profile of which has coincided with Emma Lishman joining dad David in the family business, the roots of which go back much further.

On the Lishman’s website David recalls: “I grew up on a farm where we raised pigs and turned them into bacon and hams, on the stone slabs in the cellar. My father taught me the recipe and method. He also grew up on a farm near Harrogate, and during WW2, the POWs from the local camp were brought to work on the land. One German was a butcher back in his homeland, and showed father how to cure and preserve the meat from the pigs on the farm. It’s a method we still use today.”

Stalwarts of Q Guild of Butchers, the body representing Britain’s best quality independent meat retailers, the Lishman team hand-craft their products in-house featuring pork from only Yorkshire high welfare outdoor bred pigs. It has won them a raft of awards, including two golds in the 2021 British Charcuterie Live Awards for their Yorkshire Black Bacon and Pork Hazelnut & Cider Salami.

My verdict on the Lishman charcuterie

Yorkhire chorizo This take on the spicy Spanish speciality won best gluten-free at this year’s Smithfield Star Awards run by the Q Guild. It is silky, the fat well balanced.

Fennel salami My favourite, even when not called ‘Finocchiona’. I am a fennel freak, liberally dusting many a dish with expensive fennel pollen, so maybe for me the spicing could have been more assertive.

Coppa A real depth of hammy flavour from cured pork shoulder loin.

Smoked York Ham Delicately smoked without compromising the creamy fat. Being honest, with all these products (available online via the website) and other UK providers I do regret mostly having to buy them ready sliced and packaged, however sustainably. I like slicing int the whole thing. A small grumble in the midst of such quality.

Platinum pandemonium on the streets of Manchester. We have half an hour to spare between engagements and definitely need a refuge from Saturday afternoon’s ‘jubilant’ crowds thronging Spinningfields. SCHOFIELDS Bar, of course… and a sublime Old Fashioned hits the spot.

Inside, the art deco space is quiet, both bar stools and deep blue leather banquettes sparsely occupied. Which is unusual. Since its arrival barely a year ago Joe and Daniel Schofield’s ‘instant classic’ has become an irresistible magnet for cocktail lovers and industry awards. Recently it won New Bar of the Year and overall UK Bar of the Year at the Class Bar Awards. In the separate Top 50 Cocktail Bars List it ran in at number 16 behind nearby Speak in Code, ranked 10th in the UK. 

On Deansgate, equidistant to both, is the atmospheric Hawksmoor restaurant bar, no strange to accolades, while on the fringe of the Northern Quarter Mecanica (above) is also a real contender (Ellie Wright was named Emerging Bartender of the Year in the Class awards).

Completing what I consider Manchester centre’s Fab Five is classy newcomer Blinker up on Spring Gardens. Like the Schofields (Bury) its creator Dan Berger (Heaton Mersey) is a local lad come home. Like Joe Schofield and Phil Aldridge, Dan honed his cocktail craft in Australia. He was also bar head honcho for Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

All of which brings us by a roundabout route back to arguably the oldest cocktail in the book, the Old Fashioned, its recent global appeal boosted by Dan Draper’s obsessive consumption in Sixties homage Mad Men. He would have been in his element at Blinker, which offers a complete page of Old Fashioned variants (The Martini gets a similar menu tribute)…

I’ve tried four out of the five OFs and am particularly smitten with the Sandalwood Old Fashioned (£12) which mixes Chivas Mizunara with a sandalwood and cherry Old Fashioned reduction. Purists, of course, might shy away from using the Chivas, the first Scotch whisky to be selectively finished in Japanese mizunara oak casks, but in general – like SCHOFIELDS – one Blinker emphasis is is on the stone cold classics with perfection the aim. Manhattan, Negroni, Sazerac, Vodka Martini territory.

This sits alongside Dan’ commitment to seasonality in his ingredients: “For the first menu, we’re going to focus on British mint, stone fruits and nectarines. We’re also looking at rhubarb that is grown in Cheshire, as well as pomegranate as a back-up fruit while we wait for more strawberries to come into season.”

Mecanica and SIC pursue more innovative cocktail trails with strong bartender contributions, yet just request and they’ll mix you up a pretty mean Old Fashioned. During pre-Christmas lockdown the latter sold a trio of pre-bottled versions for the Mad Man in your life.

Who’s to say what is a definitive Old Fashioned? Take Hawksmoor, whose culinary obsession with animal fats strays over into their continuing enhancement of the basic formula of muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding bourbon or rye whiskey and garnishing with orange slice or zest and maybe a cocktail cherry. Before serving de rigueur in an old-fashioned glass.

Liam Davy and his Hawksmoor bar team added a first tweak with their Full-Fat Old Fashioned, which begat more recently the Fuller-Fat Old Fashioned – “which still requires a painstaking process of infusing butter into bourbon in a water bath, but now has the added luxury of beurre noisette and a hint of the cigar box courtesy of sandalwood and cedar oil.”

For Father’s Day Liam has devised Midsummer Old Fashioned, mixing Johnnie Walker Blue Label, salted Oxfordshire honey and cold brew camomile tea, topped with a cube of white chocolate fudge. Available for a limited period from Monday, June 13 to to Sunday 19.

Hawksmoor’s not really one for the vegans then. They might turn to plant-based Speak In Code, who have their own way of adding savoury oomph to a bourbon-based cocktail. ‘Track 5’ is an old favourite: Shiitake & plant butter washed bourbon; toasted sunflower sweet vermouth; corn purée, foamer; mushroom jerky

“Bourbon is infused with dried shiitake mushrooms for 24 hours, strained and then melted plant butter is added before blast chilling. You’re left with a savoury, slightly sweet and salt bourbon with a creamy mouthfeel. Toasted sunflower seeds are added to a sweet vermouth, for their oil and fat properties. 

“The strained sunflower seeds are rehydrated as part of the garnish. The house corn purée is citrus boosted to add bite, and tastes like pineapples and passionfruit. The bourbon soaked shiitake mushrooms are blended down with dark soy, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and smoked paprika, then spread out on baking paper and dried out to make a bourbon mushroom jerky to garnish with the sunflower seeds. It’s a mad tropical meets umami experience.”

Old Fashioned – the Morgenthaler way

I was fortunate enough during a trip to Portland, Oregon to run into the legendry Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author of my cocktail bible, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. He was and still is managing the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in the Ace Hotel, where I was staying. I went seeking his barrel-aged Negronis but the most requested drink there happens to be the Old Fashioned – what back in the 19th century was th kind of drink you were given if you asked for a cocktail. 

Morgenthaler tells new bartenders that this is one drink that is very easy to make well, but very easy to screw up. Here’s his advice, extracted from Food Republic magazine, on how to make one at home…

“You really only need a small handful of ingredients: a spirit, some sugar, some bitters, ice and a little citrus peel. Notice that you’re not required to have, or even like, whiskey to have yourself an Old Fashioned. If we look at a recipe from 1806 the drink is “composed of spirits of any kind,” which is great news for drinkers, as we can tailor our Old Fashioned to our particular taste without bastardizing the original intent of the drink.

“A note about sugar: you’ll want to make a simple syrup and have it on hand. I always keep a few simple syrups in my fridge at home for use in cocktails. I make mine at a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water, both measured by weight, and heated over low heat on the stovetop and stirred constantly until the sugar is dissolved. But which sugar to use? “Well, that’s the beautiful thing about the Old Fashioned — you can match your sugar syrup to match your spirit. How about a tequila Old Fashioned made with agave syrup? Or a rum Old Fashioned made with Demerara sugar syrup?

Experiment with the recipe below and tailor it to your own personal preference, and soon you’ll be able to regale your guests with the best Old Fashioned they’ll have ever tried. I guarantee it.

Old Fashioned

2 ounces spirit (I most often reach for bourbon, but nearly anything will do), 1 teaspoon of 2:1 simple syrup. 2 dashes bitters (I prefer Angostura bitters, but again, experiment with your favourites)

1. Stir ingredients with ice cubes for 20-30 seconds or until well chilled.

2. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a large swath of citrus peel. I typically use orange peel, but other citrus can make for interesting flavour.

Schofield’s Bar, Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay St, Manchester M3 3JZ. 07311 777606. They also have a side project, Atomeca, at the city’s Deansgate Square and will open Sterling in the Stock Exchange Hotel this summer. Speak in Code, 7 Jackson’s Row Manchester M2 5ND. 07767 658690. Hawksmoor, 184-186 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3WB. 0161 836 6980. Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Blinker 64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ. 0161 236 8225.

The launch of Saison de la Maison, debut beer of Balance at Cafe Beermoth was an excuse for Manchester’s beerati to come out in force. As with the arrival six weeks before (at Port Street Beer House) of another stunning new brewing operation, Sureshot it felt like confirmation the beer scene was sticking its head properly above the parapet. 

The recessionary odds are still stacked against all our breweries surviving the year. Heaven knows my hophead compadres and I are doing out best to support them. Which bring us to the restoration of beer festivals as a thing. From the traditional CAMRA-run variety such as the Stockport Beer Festival (June 16-18) to arguably the UK’s premier ‘craft’ event, Indy Man Beer Con ushering in autumn at Victoria Baths (September 29-October 2).

You’ll get a tempting taster at crafty cousin, Summer Beer Thing (June 24-26), which post-pandemic has decamped to Kampus, where the weekend food options will be a notch up on its previous Pilcrow incarnation. Ballast will be courtesy of Nell’s Pizza, Levanter and recent Kampus arrival  Pollen alongside soon-to-be neighbours Madre and Great North Pie Co. Expect a showcase of diverse beer styles plus cocktails, wine and non-alcoholic tipples, if you must.

Hip rival Mayfield Depot is also getting in on the act by hosting the return of Manchester Craft Beer Festival across the weekend of July 22-23. featuring over 50 top end breweries.

Expect fire pit food and sizzling sounds from Goldie and David Holmes. All a bit high octane for me and to get full value beerwise out of the £55 session ticket you have to be a very canny queue hopper. The likes of Marble, Track and Union Lager are representing Manchester but this is very much a festival brand that straddles several UK cities.

Another metropolitan cuckoo on our patch is Camden Town Brewery, whose latest Tank Party Roadshow is nesting at Escape to Freight Island on Friday, June 24 and Saturday 25.A single brewery tour hardly counts as a festival, even coming with its own raft of DJ and street(ish) food. The selling point is its unfiltered version of Hells Lager with an estimated 23,000 pints being poured ‘fresh from the tank’ during the Party’s parade across the UK. Camden’s owners, ABV Inbev, the world’s largest brewing operation, sure know how to market a very ordinary product.

My own properly indie dream is for a return of our own Cloudwater’s Friends, Family and Beer, which did what it said on the can by bringing to town equally renowned breweries they have collborated with cross the globe. After glitches first time around the sophomore event at Manchester Central in February 2020 was the most exciting beer celbration I’ve ever attended. And the good news? I ran into Cloudwater founder Paul Jones at the Balance launch and he intimated Friends and Family my reassemble in 2023.

Meanwhile, two smaller scale events that are perfect for my modest beer needs.

The first four days in September mark the return of Farm Trip. Venue a hilltop farm-based brewery I have lauded previously – Rivington, high above Horwich. For its outstanding views and brews. The Brewing Co’s first Trip was hastily assembled in 2021; the follow-up more measured, promising 120 beers poured through 41 lines. Do check it out.

Such an exposed spot has it weather risks. That’s not the case with Track’s large and stylish taproom in Ardwick, Manchester and, in case it’s sunny, they’ve just opened a new garden.  The beers, too, are as good as it gets but food offerings have failed to match their quality so far. Until now with the arrival of ‘Disco Cauliflower’ as part of a kitchen takeover (Friday, June 17, 5pm-10pm and Saturday 18, 1pm-10pm) by Liverpool based restaurant group Maray, who are promoting their new Manchester venue in Lincoln Square, set to open this summer. One of those arrivals you file as ‘much anticipated’.

Three of their staple dishes will put in an appearance – their flagship falafel; hummus, chermoula and flatbread; and disco cauliflower (3,000 of these are sold each month in Liverpool). To accompany there’s  collab beer Track have brewed for the new restaurant. Maray PA is described as‘Sunshine caught in a can! Bright zesty lemon gives way to gentle ebbs of white grape and grapefruit for a truly thirst quenching pale ale.” You’ll also be able to buy it in cans from bottle shops in between festivals!


Check individual festival websites for ticket sales. Such is the thirst many sessions are already sold out.