In a world of indie hospitality unease it’s wonderful to encounter a bold opening in a suburb. Yet even at the launch party for Libertine, featuring fire-grilled meats, cool cocktails and a real feelgood vibe, the very surroundings set me thinking.
Back in the day this beguiling building was home to Withington’s Old District Bank. You can imagine some mutton-chopped, fob-watched, pin-striped bank manager encouraging or foreclosing on some entrepreneurial dream or other. It’s been ever thus, even if these days investment contact is more disembodied.
What is certain is that many businesses are now counting the pennies and it’s not adding up. Come the autumn when our ‘zombie government’ has reassembled and we match the new PM’s promises to actions, we will surely discover if the cost of living crisis and energy price armageddon can be mitigated. Help is certainly needed for bars and restaurants, which are not subject to the energy cap.
Meanwhile, on the brighter note, let’s all relish the greatest gift that banks have given to the food and drink industry – an array of sumptuous venues across Manchester, a riot of marble and mahogany, stained glass and fancy ceilings.
Libertine, as you’d guess from the team that brought us Cottonopolis and the Edinburgh Castle, takes a different tack from the conversions that dominate King Street and the city’s traditional financial quarter.
Gordon Ramsay for Jamie’s old joint. Is it a banker?
Take the trio of Edwardian banks, credited to Charles Waterhouse – the NatWest at 53 King Street, Parr’s Bank and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, neighbours where Spring Gardens meets York Street. Respectively they are now L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Brown’s and Rosso, none of them offering cutting edge cuisine, but all boasting spectacular interiors. If, let’s say a bit on the blingy side.
Across King Street is the big daddy of them all. Sir Edwin Lutyens was the mastermind behind the Midland Bank, leaving the nuts and bolts to a local firm. It’s now divided into Hotel Gotham and what was Jamie’s Italian. The hot rumour is that a certain Gordon Ramsay has plans to re-open the vast Jamie site and install a version of his (critically panned in London) Lucky Cat.
Lucky man if he gets his wish. The main Banking Hall (below) could not be skylit, so Lutyens designed arcading on all four sides and wooden galleries as in Wren churches. In the basement is the original vault, a mini-Fort Knox. Fingers crossed such a wonderful space can be appreciated again, but how much will the heating bills cost?
The heat is on at the Libertine thanks to a centrepiece grill
What sets my new favourite Withington haunt apart is the scuffed chic. Like at mothership Cottonopolis bar in the Northern Quarter Libertine’s original features are not buffed up. There has been sympathetic restoration of the finely carved frieze and balustrade parapet at roof level and of the marble pillars and previously concealed mosaics. The stripped-back walls in contrast create a rustic patchwork effect.
There’s a similar aesthetic, though smoother, going on at the wonderful Coin bar inside the former Lloyds Bank in Hebden Bridge, one of over 6,000 local branches across the UK have shut in the last decade – a third of the total. Salvaged Libertine is a more ambitious project, offering a restaurant, bar and music space with the emphasis on a ‘community focus’. Cocktails are impressive and there are 20 keg lines and four cask beer lines.
The restaurant is centred on live cooking over wood and charcoal. Veg, not just meat. Even so the trio of dishes that impressed at our soft launch meal involved za’atar herb-crusted lamb rack, oak smoked pork belly with harissa and 35-day Himalayan salt-dried beef pave with salsa verde, all the global flavours handled deftly. Expect brunch and roasts too, while prices are not exorbitant
So a valuable addition to the Withington scene. Even as we tighten our belts and prepare to turn down the thermostat a notch, the message is go out if you can to a local bar or eaterie. Use them or lose them. They are banking on you.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/lib-bar-pull.jpg?fit=2048%2C1365&ssl=113652048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-22 16:41:082022-08-29 13:03:57Cooking on sizzling coals, Libertine is the latest hot property in a former bank
Family holidays in Provence. Those were the days. Not always without incident. The first time I ever drove abroad was an eerie 3am hire car trundle along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais after horrendous flight delays. Two tots in the back too tired to even attempt: “Are we nearly there yet?” ‘There’ was the hilltop village of Haut de Cagnes, a maze of cobbled passages, at the top of which lay our holiday ‘villa’ or ‘near hovel’.
In those innocent pre-internet days we’d booked it via the small ads of The Lady magazine. It had apparently served as the wartime Gestapo HQ before falling into the hands of a retired Daily Express stringer. It dated back to the 13th century and so, it seemed, did its plumbing.
Fortunately when the gas boiler conked out on day two there was a resourceful local Monsieur Fixit on hand. He and his partner also babysat our spotty kids – both of whom had succumbed to la varicelle (chickenpox) – allowing us to chill at the local bistro. Fine meal there, but the best of the holiday came from our own primitive stove. I cooked the classic Daube à la Provencale.
It was the product of a vibrant local market, the village’s best attraction alongside the artist Renoir’s house and the Chateau Grimaldi. Ingredients? Boeuf biologique, lard salé, olive oil, fleur de sel, onions and garlic, garrigue herbs and a bottle of equally herby red, a second bottle of which we consumed with the slow-braised beef. Of course, we didn’t have one of those traditional claypot daubières to cook it in, but it still turned out sublime.
Attempts since have never quite matched that daube debut. It didn’t help that I flipped between different recipes. Yet all along on my bookshelves lay the solution. It took the death of Lulu Peyraud in 2020 and a lockdown trawl out of curiosity through A Provençal Table to reignite my quest. Eureka!
Her version is the fruit of a lifetime’s cooking (she died aged 102) in the kitchens of her family’s vineyard in the Bandol appellation 200km west of Nice. Her friend and disciple Richard Olney, expatriate American bon viveur, assembled all the book’s terroir-driven recipes under the subtitle The Exuberant Food and Winefrom Domaine Tempier.
Olney’s magnum opus, Simple Food, offers a daube recipe that is more daunting, not quite as intricate as his two takes on cassoulet but you get my drift. Introducing her to America’s West Coast culinary elite (Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters wrote the foreword to A Provençal Table), the faux rustique Olney built up an almost mythical image of Lulu (née Lucie, winemaker husband Lucien).
Alongside acting as an ambassador for the Tempier wines, she just loved cooking and entertaining. Up early in the morning to meet the fishing boats and buy the pick of their catch, or to the market for fruit and vegetables, she would go home and cook for large parties for lunch or dinner several times a week.
A role model for me? Yet all that back story was enough to put me off when, a few years on from La Varicele, we had our next Southern French holiday. ‘Play with the vigneron’s dog’ we told the kids as we sampled delicious reds and rosés made from the Mourvedre grape at various vineyards in the hills above the Med. But Tempier was a stop-off too far. I made do with buying the book. Here is the quiet wonder you’ll find on page 179 of my 1995 Pavilion edition…
Lulu’s Daube à la Provencale
4lb chuck steak, cut into 3oz pieces, 4oz lean, streaky salt bacon, in a single slice, cut across into ⅓ inch-thick lardon; ½ cups peeled, thinly sliced carrots; ½ lb onions; 3 branches of thyme, 2 bay leaves, parsley stems; one strip dried orange peel; 1tbsp olive oil; bottle of deep red wine; coarse sea salt; bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, orange peel, celery stalk, parsley).
In a large bowl, intermingle the meats, vegetable, herbs and orange peel, sprinkle over the olive oil, and pour over red wine to cover. Maria, covered, fo several hours or overnight, turning the contents of the bowl around two or three times. Strain the marinade into another bowl. Discard the carrots, onions, herbs and orange peel. In a heavy pot (preferably a daubière) layer the meats, sprinkling with salt, and place the bouquet garni between layers. Pour over the marinade and bring slowly to the boil. Then maintain a slight simmer for six hours. Lift off as much floating fat from the surface as possible. Discard the bouquet garni
Serve with macaroni and parmesan. I didn’t. And I added garlic and basil. Sacrilege. Plus a pig’s trotter so I could serve the left-overs cold en gelée. Inspired. I’m sure Lulu (and Richard) would have approved.
Main image of Haut de Cagnes by Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Haut-de-Cagnes_-copy.jpg?fit=1883%2C1260&ssl=112601883Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-21 07:33:172022-08-21 18:38:26Revisiting Daube à la Provencale – the legendary Lulu’s greatest hit?
Nigh on four decades of living in Pennine border town Todmorden and I’d never darkened the doors of Bridge End Working Men’s Club. Even though it sits just across the road from the primary school once attended by my daughters and granddaughter, it remained a no-go zone. As much of a mystery as the notorious alien abduction of a local copper a couple of miles away. That nationally reported incident came just two years before we became off comed ’uns in a then insular community.
These days Tod is cool thanks to an influx of young ‘creatives’ and I almost feel like a pioneer, straddling the transformation that’s not yet gentrification. Even my veteran beard was a harbinger of craft beer, our South American cantina and an Andrew Weatherall cult centred on the Golden Lion. Clubby in a different way from WMCs but, with a nod to the past, the pub also hosts UFO meetings. Very Tod.
So what finally tempted me to blood myself at Bridge End? I probably wouldn’t have but for the arrival of a review copy of Clubland by my friend Pete Brown, doyen of contemporary beer writers. His previous books have strayed beyond the grist and kettle boils of more mundane ale chroniclers into some serious (yet light-hearted) social history, notably in 2012’s Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub, focusing on the rich tapestry that is The George Inn, Southwark.
Even before that break-out tome he had proposed to London-centric publishers a social history of working men’s clubs. No takers. The stereotype – just cheap drinking holes in moribund industrial communities. From The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club in the Seventies to Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights in the early Noughties they could be a ‘reet laugh’ on telly but not to be taken seriously.
Pete does and his persistence has finally paid off with Clubland, personal experience informing even the driest of research.
Just as metropolitan mates he made after moving down from Barnsley to work in advertising earmarked him as a ‘professional Northerner’, so back home in the pit communities he was brought up in he got tarred with ‘almost a soft Southerner now’.
Like Pete (but from a cotton background) I was the first member of my family to go to university, but I was never forced to run the gauntlet of a working men’s club initiation.
From birth he was part of a neo-Laurentian ‘muckstack’ landscape with the club as a lubrication station for thirsty miners… and a place of entertainment. In the opening chapter, ‘The Club and Me’, he recalls “one of my earliest memories is of being held in someone’s arms, in a space that glowed.” Little such warmth percolated his awkward relationship with his father. Poignant is the passage recalling a teenage Pete being taken for a pre-Sunday lunch pint at Mapplewell Ex-Servicemen’s Club, known as “The Tin Hat’. Dad wore suit and tie over a chunky jumper. Son? ”Standing next to him dressed head to toe in black, my bootlace tie beneath my RAF greatcoat, my hair in a rockabilly quiff dyed blond on top. I thought at the time he was the one who looked ridiculous.”
On his third such session he was asked by one of the locals ‘What’s tha do then?” College, management studies. Uneasy silence. A muttering from behind a pint of John Smith’s: “Tha can’t study management.” He was never invited back. A stint behind the bar at another club and he was fired; unsaid but really for not fitting in. This would have put many of us off for life, but not Pete.
His exquisitely written, affectionate account of a vanishing part of British cultural life has not attracted the number of reviews it ought (with the notable exception of Jude Rogers’ in The Observer. Literary levelling up, London? My arse, as they say in Todmorden and Barnsley.
Great to catch up with him on the Manchester leg of the promotion tour. Not as you might expect in some approximation of The Phoenix Club but in the taproom of one of the UK’s cutting edge craft breweries, Cloudwater, in an on-stage interview with its founder, Paul Jones. Not the kind of venue where you’d find a note saying ‘These Pies Have Been Counted’. No turns on either.
Variety was the spice of club life back in the Seventies when more than seven million, mostly working class, folk were members and mega venues such as the Batley Variety Club might squeeze in audiences of up to 3,000 to see he likes of The Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, even Louis Armstrong. Further down the chicken in the basket chain stardust was more lightly sprinkled, with performers, on the way up or down, aghast at the absence of basic backstage facilities. In his ‘The Club and the Turns’ chapter Pete tries in vain to substantiate the apocryphal Shirley Bassey ‘sink down the corridor story’, punchline “if it were good enough for her it’s good enough for thee…”
That era certainly feels the apogee of the club movement, bolstered by the bingo boom. Yet all this was a far remove from the 19th century pipe dream of the Reverend Henry Solly in campaigning for a prototype that embraced educational, teetotal hubs for the workers. It all turned out differently, of course, and the author doesn’t shy away from addressing issues that include booziness, bigotry, racism and misogyny as he charts the clubs’ evolution and eventual decline.
Hearteningly he visits North Reddish Working Men’s Club, outside Manchester, widely regarded as the first WMC, and finds it in fine fettle, adapting to more straitened times. Two other venerable WMCs (Reddish and the monumental Houldsworth) still surviv in what is essentially now a commuter rather than industrial town..
At Sheffield Lane Club he salutes a cannily run commercial operation (not the norm); elsewhere he encounters valuable community initiatives. Yet nothing can dispel a pervasive melancholy.
So, you’ve been wondering, how did I get on in the Bridge End? Welcomed with open arms by the club treasurer. On my debut I wasn’t strong-armed into paying the tenner annual membership fee. Beer was ridiculously cheap but no cask was on during the heatwave because they couldn’t afford to rent a cellar cooler. Members of a certain age hadn’t returned post-pandemic, but there was a ‘quality vocalist’ booked for the weekend and there were darts opportunities aplenty upstairs. Even if the local leagues may be in decline.
Would I go back to this cosy bolthole? Nay, lad. There’s this microbar down the road that supplies me with barrel-aged Imperial Russian Stout.
Clubland: How the Working Men’s Club Shaped Britain by Pete Brown is published by HarperNorth (£20). Thank to Pete for allowing me use of his pictures.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Mainpic-for-clubs-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1371&ssl=113712048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-18 14:36:292022-08-19 07:19:36Clubland: ‘If that sink down the corridor were good enough for Shirley Bassey…’
Twenty years ago Le Mont restaurant opened at the top of Urbis. Aspirational dining in the Manchester building that most symbolised renewal in the aftermath of the IRA bombing. I was a beneficiary of this bright new dawn, accompanying chef Robert Kisby and his team on a pre-launch photoshoot in the Bollinger Cellars and vineyards. The tie-in? Spreading the glitzy glad tidings that Le Mont was to host the first Bolly bar outside London.
It all came rushing back the other evening on the 19th floor rooftop terrace of 20 Stories, with its stupendous view across the city (Le Mont at half at the height was hindered by the architect’s choice of window frosting). In my hand was a glass of bubbly, but not Champagne. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée to accompany some canapés. Cementing the brand’s partnership with the glamorous restaurant/bar du jour. The link is due in no small part, I suspect, to the arrival of D&D London’s northern head sommelier Andreas Rosendal (pictured above), an English Wine regional judge for the Decanter Magazine Awards.
The country’s sparkling wine has undoubtedly been spearheaded by Nyetimber, created by pioneering Americans who had made their fortunes in the dental industry. They saw the potential in a Sussex terroir not unlike Champagne. Did they also anticipate the boost climate change might bring to the ripening process?
The first Nyetimber vines were planted above Pulborough in 1988, the debut harvest was four years later and then Eureka! The first wine, the 100 per cent Chardonnay 1992 Premiere Cuvée Blanc de Blancs won gold at the 1997 International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was the springboard for a procession of awards as Nyetimber expanded to blend the full range of Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
I sampled the current version of Blanc de Blancs (£18.50) during our visit to the vine-strewn terrace of 20 Stories. It was gorgeous. I concur with the tasting note of one of the sommelier team, Callum Black: “Aromas of citrus and honeysuckle lead into subtle brioche and vanilla characters. The palate offers generous yet elegant notes of baked lemon and white peach with the warmth of the vintage shining through. Subtle mineral notes accentuate the fresh, crisp acidity, leading to a long and complex finish.”
Over the years the Nyetimber operation has changed hands. There was an obvious chuckle to be had when it was sold to Andy and Nichola Hill, best known for writing the Eurovision winner, Making Your Mind Up, for Bucks Fizz (sic). But the real push towards Nyetimber’s current eminence came when ex-venture capitalist Eric Heerema bought it fr £7.4m in 2006 and soon installed Canadian duo Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix as winemakers. They’re still there, sourcing grapes from over 260 hectares of vineyards (with on stream a further 70 hectares planted across various sites).
It’s big business. Millions of pounds have been invested in a new winery and state of the art equipment with yearly production predicted to reach 2 million bottle by 2025. Yet when Robin Skelton, for his 2019 book, The Wines of Great Britain, asked Heerema if there was a profit on the horizon he replied: “Yes, but not yet within our grasp.”
Skelton admires this single-minded dedication to quality and so do I. Impressive though the early wines were, they are far more impressive now, underpinning classic bread and apples on the nose with a distinctive tinge of mushroominess, then freshness on the palate and great length, even at entry level (they also now offer daringly expensive prestige versions).
According to Jancis Robinson’s magisterial websitethe Classic Cuvée regularly gets better scores than non-vintage equivalents from Roederer, Pol Roger and, yes, Bollinger. So still more than holding their own against burgeoning number UK claimants for the UK sparkling crown – Gusbourne, Rathfinny, Wiston and the rest. My own favourite in The Trouble With Dreams from Dermot Sugrue’s boutique South Downs operation. He severed a 16 year connection with Wiston this year and was once winemaker at Nyetimber. Dynastic? Who would have ever have believed in such a wondrous world of bubbles.
20 Stories’ Vineyard in the Sky promotion continues with the Classic Cuvée at £14.95 a glass with five other Nyetimbers right up to the Prestige Cuvee 1086 Rosé at £330 a bottle.
A good chance to sample the range and match with food comes on Thursday, September 29. Th venue is offering a four course ‘End of Summer Dinner’, wines included, for £70 a head. Book here.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Andreas-main-copy-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1054&ssl=110542048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-16 15:15:002022-09-08 15:33:34Hi Timber! How an English sparkler became the essential high life accessory
Chawanmushi is a passion of Mike Shaw’s. Sounds like a Japanese martial art? No, it’s a savoury custard, prepared with dashi and finished with an umami-rich topping. It was the amuse bouche during our epic 30 course tasting menu at Ynyshir. It will form an equally indispensable part of a more manageable tasting menu at MUSU.
This might be the most striking new addition to the Manchester restaurant scene since Mana.
Classically trained chef-patron (from Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons via Hambleton Hall and Aubergine to Richard Neat’s eponymous Michelin one star in Cannes) Shaw has made a daring leap into an alien gastronomic culture to create this showcase for ‘contemporary Japanese cuisine’. It is due to open on October 6 in the former Randall & Aubin site on Bridge Street.
An estimated £2.6 million has been lavished on the refurb, while Saddleworth-raised Shaw has spent the last 18 months immersing himself in Japanese food in all its arcane glory. Among the ports of call on his learning curve was Araki, the tiny Mayfair sushi restaurant controversially stripped of all three of its Michelin stars in 2020 when the chef/patron retrenched to Japan.
Ah, sushi the rice-driven standard bearer of Japanese cuisine. Purist Umezushi aside, it has been a debased culinary currency in the city. Witness the recent arrival around the corner from MUSU of a ‘Japanese/Brazilian’ all-you-can eat steak and sushi joint. 400 covers, but possibly the focus more on partying than edible authenticity.
In contrast, the 55-cover MUSU aims to live up to its name, which translates as ‘infinite possibilities’. That extends to its elevation of rice to centre stage; among the team is a specialist who trained for years in preparing the perfect grain. As Shaw says: “Despite the presence of the finest fish rice is the most important element in sushi. We will concentrate on nigiri, no rolls.”
Advance images of dishes are as ravishing as the CGI shots of the interior. Diners will be given three menu options – an a la carte ‘Sentaku’ menu, which allows guests to choose their dishes from each section of the menu to suit their own personal taste preferences, ‘Kaiseki’, a set menu curated by Michael that comprises seven and 11 course options, which together provide the guest with a balanced choice through the seasonal menu.
Watch out, too, for the puddings. Shaw is a trained pastry chef and has been exending his creative tendencies around the likes of a take on pineapple tarte tatin with ancho pepper but without the pastry. Raspberry dashi, lemon verbena, shizo sorbet are all on the horizon. And just look at those yuzu meringues.
Finally there’s an ‘Omakase’ menu, which will be served at six-seater omakase counter ruled over by head sushi chef Andre Aguilar. He trained under Japanese sushi master Yugo Kato, a specialist in this theatrical experience, entrusting choices to the chef in front of you. I regard it as a form of culinary therapy!
Sourcing for all this will be divided between Japan (A4 grade Wagyu beef, kombu, high grade traditional soy sauce) and the UK (Skye langoustines, salt-aged free range duck from Devon, Wiltshire truffles). There will be N25 beluga and an array of top of the range seafood – bluefin, hamachi, carbonero prawns – some sourced from Out of the Blue in Chorlton, some imported via the legendary True World Foods in London. Special ultra-cold -60C fridges have been installed to ensure the certified and sustainable bluefin remains in perfect condition.
Remarkably the same attention to detail has gone into the surroundings. Every vestige of the ill-fated Randall & Aubin has been stripped away. Replaced by the clean lines and precision associated with Japanese design, but also featuring bespoke Italian furniture and video walls providing an ambient backdrop that strays way beyond a dalliance with Mount Fuji.
Beverage Director Sean McGuirk, is behind an equally creative drinks menu; in-house sommelier, Ivan Milchev has arrived from Manchester’s 20 Stories with a glowing reputation; the wines come from Miles Cornish. Sakewill be as good as it gets. The bar itself is made from Dekton stone, brass and onyx; its fascia is layered in brass, detailed into a banana leaf pattern and softly back lit. It dovetails with the central open kitchen with its large pass.
Booth tables can transform into cocktail tables, emphasising the fluidity of the whole space. For smaller parties, MUSU’s private dining room accommodates up to 14 guests and can be completely separate or adjoined from the main dining room. Separated by a glazed telescopic wall, the latter can be frosted at the touch of a button to deliver total privacy.
If it all sounds quite a game changer, well it it is. My remit in this website is not to provide news of restaurant/bar openings. In this case I’m making an exception. I’m really that excited.
New York, Chicago, Detroit, Rome, Naples naturally, they all blow the trumpet about their pizza dough being the best. Thin, deep-filled, crusts like craters, they clamour for your attention. And don’t get me started on toppings. The wagyu beef burger version that briefly popped up at that bloated brand trading on its Neapolitan heritage, da Micheleseems to have been discreetly discarded, but elsewhere there’s still the vexed validity of pineapple to be squabbled over.
Which brings us to the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ incarnation, selling point of Dokes, a new pizza house in Prestwich with a gratifyingly off-grid difference. We all know no pineapples were axed open in the long-houses of ancient Wessex. Fior di Latte, nduja? Not when parsnip gruel was a treat. Even those pesky olives the Roman conquerors brought with them hadn’t stuck around.
What does probably link the diet of cake-friendly King Alfred and the commitment of Dokes to English ingredients is grain. In Anglo-Saxon the word for a ‘loaf’ (hlaf) is found in the word for ‘lord’ (hlaford), itself derived from the term hlaf-weard, or ‘bread-guardian’. The lord’s wife was known as the hlæfdige, or ‘bread-maker’. The modern term ‘lady’ is derived from this word.
All kinds of grain, notably barley, went into the coarsely ground mix they baked with in rudimentary ovens. It’s not so far removed from Einkorn, one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat, that contributes to the pizza dough used by Dokes creator and committed ‘antiquarian’ Michael Clay. His restaurant HQ remains Elnecot – first recorded name for its site, Ancoats.
For his new project, which debuted at the food hall, Society, in Barbirolli Square, he sources flour from Gilchester Organics in the North East, favoured by some of the UK’s top chefs, and from Shipton Mill in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
The springy, almost ethereal dough of the three Dokes pizzas we essayed during the soft launch is down to Shipton’s Heritage Grain Mix. On top of this base the emphasis is on British produce, albeit our indigenous versions of Italian pizza staples. So expect extra virgin rapeseed oil from Yorkshire, salumi and nduja from Curing Rebels in Brighton, creamy British burrata from the home counties and truffles from Wiltshire. To extend the English tomato season from autumn onwards an Isle of Wight confit version will stand in, Michael tells me.
Dokes is not just about pizza. The 40-cover venue offers a full restaurant experience including veg dishes and salads, utilising fresh produce fromCinderwood Market Garden in Cheshire. Yorkshire Pasta Company rigatoni with slow-cooked lamb shoulder and anchovy (£14) was at least the equal of any similar dish I’ve eaten at the lauded Sugo in Ancoats and Altrincham.
It’s all a very convincing package with a minimal intervention wine list from Buon Vino in the Dales (I loved the Lambrusco) and a cutting edge local beer list featuring Pomona Island andSureshot.
In truth, the Anglo-Saxon hype is a bit of a red herring (yes, the invaders did bring herring fisheries with them), but I like the pottery shields that add colour to a dark interior. And who could resist a pizza called Beowulf? You may have encountered the epic through the 3D animated fantasy movie, the hero voiced by Ray Winstone. At Oxford I laboured my way through all 3,000 alliterative lines in the original Old English.
Was it worth it for the denouement with a dragon? What’s it all got to do with a topping of pepperoni, nduja, chilli, burrata and pesto? Odin only knows, but at £12 it’s a treat.
Equally impressive are, at a quid less, an earthy Funghi pizza featuring truffle and confit garlic (Dokes is lavish with the confit garlic, check out the bruschetta above) and, my favourite, The Rollright (£12), which combines the squidgy cheese of that name with new potatoes, smoked bacon, white onion and creme fraiche to create what the Italians call a Pizza Bianca. But we won’t because we’re all Anglo-Saxons now.
Dokes Pizzeria, 449A Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 1AF. Open Wednesday-Thursday 12pm-10pm, Friday 12pm-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm. Brunch at weekends.
The present of some corn cobs “as corny as Kansas in August”, well super fresh off the stalk, was a Proustian madeleine moment, albeit my Memory Lane was Route 66 through another US state – Arizona – and my emblematic longing was for a swirling, ‘tricoleur’ soup. Created bizarrely by a chef originally from Hartlepool.
The flashback sent me scuttling to the kitchen to recreate it, but first some context. It was exactly a decade ago. The latest leg of an epic road trip was from Sante Fe westward to the Grand Canyon. We had skirted Albuquerque on Interstate Highway 40 – the flat, straight blacktop that was supposed to demote the legendary Route 66 to a mere backroad. But, of course, the much-covered song and the iconic image live on, albeit a mite cheesily.
Altogether now: “If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66!” When journeyman songwriter Bobby Troup (previous hit Snootie Little Cutie) penned this ditty in 1946 did he ever imagine its future mileage?
In the April I had stood on Adams Street, Chicago, in front of the Arts Institute, starting point of the 2,500 mile highway which runs south then west all the way to Los Angeles. Did I ever imagine three months later I’d be rejoining it in a place called Winslow, Arizona. Cue another song, another legend.
First track on The Eagles’ eponymous 1972 debut album was Take It Easy. One line, ‘Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona’ put the town on the map. A girl in a flatbed Ford slows down to take a look at a horny hitchhiker who dreams that her sweet love might save him. I don’t expect it ended well… but a legacy remains.
On the corner of Kinsley Avenue and 2nd Street on Route 66 you can pose with a statue of the hitchhiker, backed by a mural of the lusted-after Ford girl… oh and across the road buy a tee-shirt in the gift shop.
We decamped to Winslow’s memorial of better times – the Posada Hotel, a wonderfully elegant, restored 1930s hacienda, pet project of prolific artist Tina Mion and her husband. He artwork and a plethora of local craft fills what was the last great railway hotel built along the Santa Fe line. Amtrak trains still thunder through. We lunched in the Turquoise Room restaurant where much-travelled, Hartlepool-born chef John Sharpe had won huge acclaim, even a James Beard nomination, for his interpretations of South Western cuisine and Slow Food.
John retired a couple of years ago, but his kitchen team and the core menu remain in place. I’ve just checked. The chillies, tomatillos and tamales stand-up for the South Western high desert heritage alongside some big, big flavours. One $40 main combines crispy, fried quail with an orange Oaxaca sauce, Colorado farm-raised venison medallion with a black currant brandy sauce, a chipotle tamale topped with a pork, venison and bison chili. Finished with a fresh vegetable medley.
I’m glad I don’t have to tackle that challenge. The object of my desire is a black and yellow emblem in a bowl with a scrawled red pepper ‘signature’. Two soups, spicy black bean and creamy corn.
Exquisite. As was Winslow itself – a sleepy, dream America heirloom strip. Just the plc to take it easy.
Black bean soup
500g black beans; ½ tspb ancho chili powder; 1tsp ground cumin; ½tsp oregano; ½tsp marjoram; ½tsp ground coriander; ½tsp ground white pepper; 1 bay leaf; 15g diced
Wash and soak the beans in cold water overnight. Place beans and the rest of the ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1½ hours or until beans are tender. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Cool the beans and place them in a blender and blend until smooth. Dilute with water as needed. The soup can be made a day in advance.
Sweet Cream of Corn Soup
1kg corn; 350g sliced white onions; 50g butter; ½litre water; 750ml heavy cream, 1tsp salt
Find the freshest corn you can and cut it off the cob making sure you scrape the cob to extract all of the milk. This is the sweetest part of the corn. Sauté the onions in a thick bottomed pan until soft but not brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Place in a blender and puree till smooth. If the corn is not sweet add a little sugar. This may be done ahead of time and kept warm in a double boiler.
Red Pepper Stripe
250ml soured cream; 60g roasted peppers; 1tsp chipotle peppers; salt and pepper to taste. Blend together.
Due to the starch in both soups, they will thicken as they sit. It is important that they be of the same consistency so you may need to adjust them by adding a small amount of hot water. You want to serve the soup in the same bowl, with the bean on one side and corn on the other. So, place the soups side by side on the counter. Using a separate soup ladle for each soup, scoop a ladle of each and pour into the bowl at the same time, and at the same speed.
As a garnish squeeze the Red Pepper Stripe on top. Best served with cornbread fresh from the skillet.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Blck-ben-soup.jpg?fit=2016%2C1512&ssl=115122016Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-07 18:54:042023-02-15 21:44:21Arizona dreaming… of a tricoleur potage in Winslow’s Turquoise Room
High summer in Sicily and the carefree boys will be leaping off the quayside at Cefalu, location for Cinema Paradiso; in New Mills fewer, if any, will fancy a dive into the murky Peak Forest Canal or the River Goyt.
Taking a plunge on Cannoli, now that’s another matter. At A Tavola Gastronomia Sicilia I’ve lined up a trio of these sweet fried pastry tubes filled with fresh Agrigento ricotta, Etna pistachio and the like. To close a glorious lunch ‘from the old country’ in a Technicolor Mediterranean setting my brother and I are sharing them alongside scoops of ice cream, one intensely lemony, the other showcasing the legendary dark chocolate of Modica, spectacular Baroque home town of A Tavola’s owner/chef Alessio Muccio. His restaurant journey to the former Beehive pub has taken him via stints in the old Stock restaurant in central Manchester, Mamma Mia in Denton and Reddish.
This proud Sicilian and his open kitchen team make the cannoli, the gelato, much of the pasta we never ordered and the arancini that thankfully we did. Alessio’s front of house partner Nicky Owen beams with enthusiasm when we tell her these awesome cones of deep-fried, breadcrumbed rice are the best we’ve ever tasted, vanquishing those tiny balls of leftover risotto rice that are the norm in the chain Italians. At the heart of mine is a torrent of ragu and molten mozzarella.
Mixed feelings about the caponata on sourdough bruschetta but, as Nicky points out every family across the island of Sicily offers their own version of this sweet and sour aubergine dish. A Tavola’s is light on the capers and vinegar, unlike my own take, which is sometimes too Cosa Nostra ferocious. There looks to be a lightness of touch across the whole menu here. Testimony to which exemplary fritto misto, a bargain to share at £14.50 with its cornucopia of red mullet, whitebait, calamari, sardine fillets, anchovies and king prawns… only the latter, from Argentina, perhaps over-crisped in the frier.
Of course, there are pasta and pizzas on the menu (with a mission statement abut the quality and sustainability of the flour they use). Readers of my website will be aware of my obsession with Pasta all Norma. Yes, that pinnacle of Sicilian primi is there, the sauce with ricotta salata and mint applied to Casarecce (short durum wheat twists), Bravo.
The menu is apparently based on a book of family recipes passed down by his father. Among the riot of Sicilian artefacts and keepsakes across two floors there are pictures of family and, on the stairs, Al Pacino and other Godfather luminaries, who I presume are not related.
All in all, the whole place feels like a labour of love with some 30 covers inside and the same number outside, served by staff predominantly from Sicily. The raw materials, too, sing of that rich culinary melting pot – sasizza (fennel sausage), grassy olive oil, wines, even Sicilian craft lagers (they also have plans to commission a house beer from the estimable Torrside Brewing in the town). Check out the Sicilian deli, selling pasta, condiments and chutneys.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Mucci.jpg?fit=1600%2C1067&ssl=110671600Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-06 12:41:092022-08-06 12:47:37A Tavola Gastronomia – Alessio’s sweet taste of Sicily in the High Peak
How best to pay homage to the passing of one of the greatest chefs of his generation? No brainer: cook one of his signature dishes. But will my take on Alastair Little’s Pollo Orvietano evoke the tastes and aromas of a chicken cooked with wild fennel and local olives at La Cacciata, the farmhouse cookery school he founded in the Umbrian hills?
The death of ‘the godfather of modern British cooking’ at the age of 72 came out of the blue, so I haven’t had time to acquire my chicken of choice from Loose Birds, Paul Talling’s unmatchable operation near Harome, North Yorkshire, but I’m happy with a Soanes from Driffield in the Wolds, bought on Todmorden Market, and serendipitously I’ve been able to supplement fennel from my daughter’s garden with a bunch inside my ‘No Dig Club’ veg bag (£14.95 via thislink) from Cinderwood Market Garden.
I always associate Little with his eponymous restaurant that sprung up in Frith Street, Soho, in the mid-Eighties. Behind its Venetian blinds it offered a rebuke to haute cuisine thanks to its menu restricted to soup, salad, fresh fish and meat, plus puddings, changing twice a day according to availability of raw materials.
Paper napkins and an absence ot tablecloths contributed to the determinedly Keep It Simple ethos. That was the name of his first book, aimed squarely at the adventurous home cook. Jonathan Meades, greatest food critic of Little’s era, said of it: “What makes Alastair such a good cook (apart from talent, taste, application and curiosity), is that he possessed the un-English conviction that eating well is a normal part of a civilised society.”
There’s a recipe for Chicken Orvieto-style in there and a subtly different one on his website, referring to the town not the wine, but it would seem wrong not to use that straw-coloured, slightly bitter white for the 250ml of wine required. In the end I’ve adapted an alternative recipe from his second, equally evocative, cookbook, Italian Kitchen: Recipes from La Cacciata (pictured in the autumn mists above). It came out at around the same time as Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ first River Cafe Cookbook, cementing rustic Italian cucina as the aspirational ingredient-led cuisine du jour (apologies for my French).
Ingredients were always paramount for Little, always ahead of his time and a handsome, engaging champion of real food on television. In the Noughties he ran a deli-trattoria called Tavola in Notting Hill; in 2017 he moved to Australia (check out the archive of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme for a Sheila Dillon entertaining interview with him on the eve of his departure. He was to open a restaurant in his wife’s home town of Sydney, where he died this week.
The Colne-born chef had trained in top London kitchens before setting up on his own, but he initially seemed defined by his academic pedigree, having read archaeology and social anthropology at Downing College, Cambridge. He taught himself to cook in his last year,dishing up meals for, among others, his exact contemporary, Rowley Leigh (Christ’s) later a chef/restaurateur and food writer in his own right.
With them I always associate (though his only Cambridge connection was winning a choral scholarship aged eight) another chef/scholar Simon Hopkinson, two years younger. Little was from Colne, Leigh from Manchester, Hopkinson from Bury. A fourth member of an incomparable quartet has to be Jeremy Lee, who worked for both Little in Frith Street and for Hopkinson at Bibendum in Fulham. The Scot, a mere stripling at 58, is still manning the stoves in Soho, at Quo Vadis and has a highly anticipated book coming out on September 1 – Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many.
Lee led the tributes from the London food world this week: “Alastair Little was a godfather of modern British cooking and a champion of keeping it simple. His cooking was just incredible, peerless. Unique, charming, brilliant, a joy to cook with, a huge inspiration, a great pal and a great boss, gone too young, too soon, much missed and never to be forgotten.”
As I write this, my own tribute is sizzling in the Aga. I’ve never cooked Pollo Orvietano before. I just hope I do it justice.
1.5 kg free range chicken; good olive oil; 500g chicken livers, cleaned and diced
2 large potatoes, cut into 1cm dice; an enormous bunch of leaf or feather fennel; 48 black olives, stoned; salt and pepper; 48 large fresh garlic cloves in their skins; 250ml dry white wine; 500ml chicken broth.
Prepare the stuffing in advance. It takes around an hour. Sauté the livers in the 4 tbsp of olive oil, stirring until coloured. Add the potatoes and gently cook until thoroughly cooked through. Add the fennel with half the olives, season well and set aside to completely cool. Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.
Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the bird without overfilling; place the rest, lubricated with a little olive oil, in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and season generously. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Slide it onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch, put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10.
Remove the bird to a chopping board, allow it to rest. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat in the roasting dish and add the wine. Bring to the boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce the lot by three-quarters. Cut the chicken into eight pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounding the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds.
We accompanied the dish with a Pheasant’ s Tears Poliphonia, a Georgian red matured in a qvevri (earthenware amphora). It’s a blend of 100 indigenous red and white grape varieties. Thanks for the recommendation, Dan at Flawd.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Pollo.jpg?fit=2016%2C1512&ssl=115122016Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-05 14:15:062022-08-05 14:39:05Pollo Orvietano and Pheasant’s Tears – homage to the late, great Alastair Little
It’s been amazing stepping back inside restaurants and bars post-pandemic. From those first, tentative socially distanced steps to the current slightly strained normality in these difficult economic times.
Still the sheer joy of shared conviviality fuels my renewed enthusiasm for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards (here’s my preview). As a veteran judge, helping to assemble the 2022 shortlists just announced, that sense of responsibility returned but also admiration for the quality of contenders – 113 nominees across 16 award categories and so many worthy indie heroes who just missed the cut.
A special word of praise for a new arrival, the Great Service Award. There’s no hiding from front of house shortages, so a public vote celebrating the heroes who keep the hospitality wheels rolling couldn’t be more important.
The Manchester Food and Drink Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is all about post-COVID recovery and it seems appropriate to continue to give the public a greater say in who wins its coveted Awards. 10 categories will be judged entirely by your vote. Here’s the MFDF voting link.
The winners of four more, Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Best Newcomer and Bar of the Year, will be chosen by a combination of a ‘mystery shopping panel’ selected from MFDF judges with a measure of public input. Independent Food Producer and Independent Drinks Producer will be judged by a panel taste test.
All the shortlists have been compiled by the MFDF judging panel, consisting of the region’s leading food and drink critics, writers and experts. Businesses were able to self-nominate for their chance to gain a spot on the shortlist and the categories have been carefully considered and curated with an absolute passion for the city’s industry at their heart. This year’s MFDF Awards are sponsored for the first time by Bruntwood. The closing date for votes is September 16. The 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards nominations:
PLANT BASED OFFERING OF THE YEAR
Four Side Pizza 559 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 0AE
Herbivorous Unit 7, Hatch, 103 Oxford Road, M1 7ED
Otto Vegan Empire 26A Bramhall Lane South, Bramhall, Stockport, SK7 1AF
Ruyi 101 Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9GA
Sanskruti 93-95 Mauldeth Road, Manchester M14 6SR
The Walled Garden Whalley Range
Wholesome Junkies Unit 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester, M3 1PJ
INDEPENDENT DRINKS PRODUCER OF THE YEAR
Bundobust Brewery St James’ Building, 61-69 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6EQ
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Awards-1-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1366&ssl=113662048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2022-08-01 12:30:402022-08-01 12:36:26Stunning shortlists for the 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Awards – make your vote count