Is it fanciful to judge chefs from the books on their restaurant shelves? Obviously there to make a statement. True, what they put on the plate is paramount, but any committed artist is in part the sum of their influences. Take the wondrous Moorcock Inn at Norland. Among some hefty cookbooks in the bar you’ll find the (out of print) eponymous cookbook of Kobe Desramaults. At his legendary Michelin-starred In de Wulf in Belgium he was once mentor to Moorcock chef/patron Alisdair Brooke-Taylor and the legacy shows.

Aspirational younger chefs are keen to display an inventory of their own inspirations. Just a couple of impressive examples I recall – Steven Halligan at Restaurant Metamorphica in Haslingden and Paul Sykes at Hyssop in Glossop. 

A shout-out for the latter restaurant which was gutted by fire recently. Paul and his partner Jess have launched a Crowdfunder “to help raise the funds to get us trading again, on a smaller scale, while the bigger project of rebuilding Hyssop starts.” Well worth supporting.

Newly crowned Manchester Chef of the Year Eddie Shepherd’s own book collection sits in his living room – as do we at one of his acclaimed Walled Gardens dining experiences along with eight other foodies. He calls it his ‘Underground Restaurant’ suggesting some Hobbit hole or a homage to the Beat Poets, but the bijou setting is in a Whalley Range housing development. To call it a ‘gated community’ would bely its charm. There is something otherworldly about it. His enclosed garden is home to the beehives and herbs that fuel his perception-challenging project. His home is his laboratory. The knives on the wall he forged himself, few domestic kitchens could host his cutting edge molecular gastronomical kit (a £10,000 electric homogeniser, anyone?) and the names on those book spines above our table … El Bulli, Noma, Alinea, El Celler de Can Roca. It’s a roll call of the runes of experimental cuisine. 

So how does self-taught Eddie, a philosophy graduate who found his kitchen calling by chance, fit into the lineage of Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, Grant Achatz and the brothers Roca? 

Impossible to compare a solo suburban explorer like Eddie – let’s call him the Alchemist of Alexandra Park – against their beefed up brigades and well-stoked international hype. He is a one-off.

For starters let’s explore one of the 13 dishes in the £85 tasting menu he serves us across a Sunday afternoon of recurrent delights. A visual feast too. Made all the more enchanting by his modest refusal to detail at length the intricacies of preparation for each dish, though he was happy to answer questions from the exclusive gathering. For all the answers visit his exhaustive You Tube channel.

With BYOB the meal itself is an absolute steal. He’s been doing it here for six years, three long weekends a month and has no plans to open a conventional restaurant.

Cured mushrooms with vanilla and beetroot is a stand-out among stand-outs. He explained its gestation to my Manchester Confidential colleague, Davey Brett: “Eddie takes a mixture of mushrooms, thinly slices them, dehydrates them and soaks them in umami stock to rehydrate them, taking on the stock’s flavour. He then sets them in a block with an enzyme and this compressed block is cooked for two hours, cut into small pieces, smoked with oak, before finally being seasoned and marinated in oil.

“The whole process takes several days and concentrates a punnet’s worth of fungi into roughly two mouthfuls of cured mushrooms. It’s a ridiculously luxurious dish, but when you consider the steps and processes that go into a raw Wagyu steak or traditional cured meats, is it really that bonkers?”

It tastes as extraordinary as it sounds, coming after he has served us a lemon verbena and grapefruit G&T with his own gin and infused tonic and an ultra-instagrammable dandelion petal fruit pastille each. Soundtracked deliriously by REM’s Shiny Happy People. Northern Soul and Gomez also feature in Eddie’s eclectic playlist, which adds a surreal homely feel.

Next up is even more visual (see main image), his latest in a series of dishes investigating the culinary potential of blue algae. Yes, this miso is very blue, a light below exaggerating the effect as it cradles a cube of tofu garnished with pickled mushrooms. Another glowing (sic) report for the extraordinary range and subtlety of the plant-based palette of flavours.

The sole dairy presence comes with the only ugly course. Split open that black charcoal carapace and inside it is a rose and koji marinated halloumi. To accompany, a pot of rhubarb molasses. It’s a playful rejoinder to the bad old days of the grilled Cypriot cheese as token veggie dish on a menu.

Playful also sums up carrot charcuterie as a dead taste ringer for the real thing, topped with a show-stopping dehydrated carrot tuile. It is cultured with koji and cured with juniper and black pepper, and smoked before drying. Not necessarily all in order. I smudged my notepad.

Superficially more conventional nettle soup, a fluffy aligot featuring potato, truffle and Blue Wensleydale and a glorious treacle and walnut bread provide ample comfort eating. Eddie bakes every day, but he admits none of his own cultured butter can match the bright yellow ‘Bungay’ he has set before us.

This is hand made in Suffolk by the folk behind Baron Bigod cheese using the same raw milk from their grass-fed Montbeliarde cattle. For my close encounter with this breed in their native Jura follow this link.

Another daily task in the Shepherd household is the preparation of proper tortillas, inspired by Eddie’s travels in Mexico. Most Gringos wouldn’t trouble to grind corn into masa to make their own. I’ve tried it in Tijuana once; it’s messy. You have to niximalise in an alkaline solution the corn (in this case heirloom olitillo blanco from Oaxaca), grind it to make fresh masa and then press and cook the tortillas fresh at service.

During this visit our host takes Mexican fave one authentic step further with his huitlacoche (pronounced whee-tla-KOH-cheh) topping – a direct link with the Aztecs, They prized this staple, thought to have more protein than than regular corn and high amounts of lysine, an essential amino acid.

Whatever its attributes huitlacoche – also known as corn smut, fungus or Mexican truffle – is essentially a plant disease that grows on ears of corn around the kernels in puffy, grey clouds. I looked all this up afterwards. A meal at the Walled Gardens is nothing if not thought provoking. The taste? Mushroomy, a hit of smoked chipotle, a dash of gooseberry salsa that works a treat. Gone in one. 

Puddings are equallly left-field obviously. Chamomie and Raspberry, Honey and Wildflowers (bees are his current passion along with knife construction), Pinecone Sorbet and finally another example of mind-blowing technique with a purpose. 

Scotch Bonnet Truffles are created by distilling the searingly hot chillies at low temperature in the rotary vacuum evaporator to capture their flavour but remove any spice and heat.

The resulting distillation is blended with double fermented Valrhona Itakuja chocolate to make the truffles. All the vivid aromas of the chillies without the burn. The dish is finished off with shards of fruit glass, in this instance made from passion fruit. I think. For more information on Eddie’s Youtube there’s a video and a printed recipe if you want to attempt it at home. I’d suggest instead you high-tail it down to the Walled Gardens. Eddie will soon be offering slots into 2023. What has been a hard booking to arrange probably got that little bit harder.

For a full list of winners at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards and my thoughts on the event visit this link.

Back to normal, post-pandemic? Well, not quite. Manchester’s food drink scene faces further unprecedented pressures with the current cost of living and energy crises. Yet the daring, innovative flame still burns bright and hell, do they all know how to party. My morning after lifesaver was the recuperative vibe of the city’s glorious new Mayfield Park.

That’s the ‘back garden’ of Escape to Freight Island, again the venue for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards, where there was a rapturous reception for a parade of independent heroes. As fascinating a set of winners as I can recall. Name me another UK city where the big four awards would have gone to such an eclectic quartet as Where The Light Gets In, Eddie (Walled Gardens) Shepherd, Another Hand and Speak In Code. 

These winners were chosen by a combination of a ‘mystery shopping panel’ selected from MFDF judges, including yours truly, with a measure of public input. Independent Food Producer and Independent Drinks Producer were judged by a panel taste test. The rest of the awards followed last year’s precedent and were solely the result of the (impressively large) public vote. 

Across the board there was evidence of a strong commitment to sustainability, local sourcing, cultural diversity and community values. Buzz words all but sometimes just talking the talk. Not here.

Take the aforementioned ‘big four’. Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In sources produce from The Landing, its own urban gardening space on top of the town’s Merseyway Shopping Centre. Eddie Shepherd is even more hyper-local; his plant-based ‘underground restaurant’ in Whalley Range is driven by the bee hives and herbs in his (walled) garden diners look out on.

In the city centre Another Hand is a committed purchaser of fruit, veg and herbs from Cheshire’s groundbreaking Cinderwood market garden, which supplies several of the establishments on the Awards shortlists. Vegan cocktail specialists Speak In Code, a four minute walk away from Another Hand, is remarkably hands-on. The bartending staff craft the various veg, fruit and spice-led cocktail concoctions alongside plant-based snacks and their own customised ice.

Finally a hugely deserved award cementing the resurgence of Stockport as a gastronomic destination. Restaurant of the Year WTLGI and its baked goods sibling, Yellowhammer, which was also up for an award, had to share the limelight with two of the North’s canniest events operators. I’ve known John and Rosemary Barratt for nigh on three decades and Foodie Fridays, packing the cobbled ginnels around Stockport Market Place, is their benchmark achievement. On the night it earned them both Pop Up/ Project of the Year and the coveted Outstanding Achievement Award. Their on-stage celebration, below, was a fitting climax to a special night.

Here is the list of this year’s winners…

Restaurant of the Year – Where The Light Gets In

Shortlisted: 10 Tib Lane, Erst, The Sparrows, Another Hand, Mana, The Firehouse, Where the Light Gets In.

Chef of the Year – Eddie Shepherd (The Walled Gardens)

Shortlisted: Caroline Martins (Sao Paulo Project), Joseph Otway (Flawd), Sam Buckley (Where the Light Gets In) Patrick Withington (Erst), Adam Reid (The French), Julian Pizer (Another Hand), Eddie Shepherd (The Walled Gardens).

Newcomer of the Year – Another Hand

Shortlisted: The Alan, The Black Friar, Bundobust Brewery, Flawd, Yellowhammer, 10 Tib Lane, Another Hand.

Bar of the Year – Speak In Code

Shortlisted: Blinker Bar, Flawd 9, Henry C, Ramona, Schofield’s Bar, 10 Tib Lane, Speak in Code.

Pub or Craft Ale Bar of the Year – The King’s Arms, Salford

Shortlisted:Bridge Beers, Heaton Hops, House of Hops, Nordie, Track Taproom, Station Hop, The King’s Arms (Salford),

Independent Food Producer of the Year – Dormouse Chocolates

Shortlisted: Great North Pie Co, Holy Grain, La Chouquette, Long Boi’s Bakehouse, Polyspore, Yellowhammer, Dormouse Chocolates.

Independent Drinks Producer of the Year – Hip Pop

Shortlisted: Cloudwater Brew Co, Into the Gathering Dusk, Bundobust Brewery, Stockport Gin, Steep Soda, Track Brewing, Hip Pop.

Pop Up/ Project of the Year – Foodie Fridays, Stockport

Shortlisted: Platt Fields Market Garden, Sao Paulo Project, Suppher, Eat Well Spring Festival, Bungalow at Kampus, Heart and Parcel, Foodie Fridays. 

Neighbourhood Venue of the Year – Bar San Juan, Chorlton

Shortlisted: Baratuxi, The Easy Fish Co, Nila’s Burmese Kitchen, Ornella’s Kitchen, Osma, The Perfect Match, Bar San Juan.

Food Trader of the Year – Burgerism

Shortlisted – House of Habesha, Little Lanka, Lovingly Artisan, Mira, New Wave Ramen, Pico’s Tacos, Burgerism.

Affordable Eats of the Year – Salt & Pepper MCR

Shortlisted: Aunty Ji’s, Bahn Mi Co Ba, Cafe Sanjuan, Levenshulme Bakery, Go Falafel, Mama Flo’s, Salt & Pepper MCR.

Coffee Shop of the Year – Pollen

Shortlisted: Cafe Sanjuan, Factory Coffee, Grind and Tamp, Grapefruit, Just Between Friends, Station South, Pollen

Plant-based Offering of the Year – Wholesome Junkies

Shortlisted: Four Side Pizza, Herbivorous, Otto Vegan Empire, Ruyi, Sanskruti, The Walled Gardens

Wholesome Junkies.

Food and Drink Retailer of the Year – Chorlton Cheesemongers

Shortlisted: Ad Hoc, Hello Oriental, Coopers Lets Fress Deli, Le Social, Out of the Blue, Wandering Palate, Chorlton Cheesemongers.

Foodie Neighbourhood of the Year – Ancoats

Shortlisted; Chapel Street Salford, Monton, Prestwich, Ramsbottom, Sale, Stockport, Ancoats.

Great Service Award – Dishoom

Shortlisted: Bull & Bear, Hawksmoor, Flawd, Schofield’s Bar, Speak in Code, 10 Tib Lane, Dishoom.

Howard and Ruth’s Outstanding Achievement Award – John and Rosemary Barratt (Foodie Fridays, Stockport)

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival, delayed for a week by the Period of National Mourning, continues until Sunday, October 2. Here is my lowdown.  Event images mostly courtesy of Carl Sukonik

And finally a plug for the 25 Eventful Years of The Manchester Food and Drink podcast, which I did with festival founder Phil Jones, top food PR Siobhan Hanley and the doyen of Blue Badge guides, Jonathan Schofield. It was a hoot. Listen here.

Though Samuel Pepys remains the diarist closest to my heart (with a dishonourable mention for the entertaining Alan Clark) it is Pepys’ Restoration contemporary, John Evelyn, to whom I consistently turn in penning my vignettes about food. Not so much to his Diaries proper but to his horticultural treatises. In my Quest for Cobnuts I invoked his Sylva (1664); while for Scorzonera it’s his Acteria: A Discourse of Sallets from five years later.

Many of those ‘sallets’ he grows in his stately country garden are salad stalwarts to this day – beetroots, spring onions, lettuces, radishes. His spellings may differ but artichaux and sparagus are no strangers to us either. Elsewhere there’s a strong interface between wild and cultivated, medicinal and culinary, and many plants mentioned (Jack o’ the Hedge, hogweed, seakale, wood sorrel, dock) are four centuries on now consigned to the forager’s domain.

That’s not the case with scorzonera – praised by Evelyn – and the inexorably yoked salsify. Not that it’s easy to buy either of these edible roots, distantly related, that are similar in appearance (long, thin, tapering) and taste (mild and sweet, a hint of oysters, some claim). Autumn is their season but they’re hardly a fixture in greengrocers or on the market. 

Three years ago Waitrose chose to stock Salsify, “both the black variety of the vegetable, grown in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and a small amount of the white variety, grown in Ayrshire in Scotland.” The black variety is indeed scorzonera, the white the true salsify, though when both are peeled the flesh is ivory cream and must be instantly plunged into lemon water to prevent browning.

Whenever I locate either, usually from an enterprising organic grower, they’re caked in mud, making purchase a kind of Root Roulette.

Scorzonera has traditionally been reckoned the superior in taste. Evelyn’s Acteria entry is keen to stress its wellness attributes (it is indeed full of vitamins)  but he allows it place at the dining table: “Viper-graſs, Tragopogon, Scorzonera, Salſifex, &c. tho’ Medicinal, and excellent againſt the Palpitation of the Heart, Faintings, Obſtruction of the Bowels, &c. are beſides a very ſweet and pleaſant Sallet; being laid to ſoak out the bitterneſs, then peel’d, may be eaten raw, or Condited; but beſt of all ſtew’d with Marrow, Spice, Wine, &c. as Artichoak, Skirrets, &c. ſliced or whole. They likewiſe may bake, fry, or boil them; a more excellent Root there is hardly growing.

Scorzonera belongs to the Asteraceae family, a sibling of artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes. The best known species is the Scorzonera hispanica, native to southern Europe, known as winter asparagus, as it is harvested from October and throughout winter season. The plant has large green leaves and edible daisy-like yellow flowers. ‘Viper-gras’ refers to the legend that it was a cure for poisonous snake bites.

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) boasts purple flowers and is a larger relative of the common wild plant, goat’s beard and share it hairy seed ‘clocks’. Domestic cultivation started in the 16th century in Italy and France, where it has always been more popular than in England. Until now when it has been take up by chefs such as Richard Corrigan, Simon Rogan and Michel Roux.

So what to do with these interchangeable rare treats? Boil, serve in wedges with lemon, or in fritters, tempura, puree, roasted or in  gratin (my favourite at home is baked in an earthenware pot, layered with oozing Ogleshield cheese), which doesn’t overwhelm the subtle root taste.

Still I bow to one of my favourite scholarly professional chefs, Jeremy Lee of Soho’s Quo Vadis for his superior salsify nibbles. Hugely pleased to meet him pre-Pandemic at Bistrotheque In Manchester’s Native Hotel, where he was guest chef, cooking a three-course homage to Elizabeth David. Jeremy blanches the salsify roots, smothers them in parmesan and butter before rolling them in in feuille de brick Tunisian pastry (sturdier than filo) and bakes until golden. It’s one of the sumptuous recipes in his recently published instant classic, Cooking, Simply and Well, For One or Many (4th Estate, £30), in which he devotes a whole chapter to salsify.

Ingredients: To serve 4-6 as a nibble: six sticks salsify, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper, 120g melted butter, 90g grated parmesan, three sheets of feuilles de brick pastry.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Wash the salsify. Peel swiftly and brush lightly with lemon juice. Bring a pan of water to the boil and salt lightly. Drop in the salsify and simmer until tender, around 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the pan when cooked and cool.

Lay the feuilles de brick sheets on a surface, cut each in half so they are half-moon shapes, anoint with butter, liberally season with salt and pepper, and strew with parmesan. Lay the salsify along the flat side and roll very tightly towards the curved side. Lay the wrapped salsify upon a baking sheet. Brush with any remaining butter and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown and interesting.

Lift carefully from the oven and remove to a board. To serve, cut into three or four pieces, adding a little more grated parmesan.

Grow your own

If this glorious celebration of under the radar roots makes you want to access them more easily follow Evelyn’s lead and grow your own. Sow the freshest seed possible in sandy soi,l either in autumn or spring. They can also be raised in pots and planted out in spring. Contrary to the last, salsify is a biennial plant, scorzonera a perennial. 

Up on an eighth floor rooftop with a leaden Manchester skyline all around I’m talking ‘terroir’ with Chris Laidler. He gives me Montagny; I raise him Mercurey. We both agree solidly on Macon in the search for affordable Burgundy wine regions. He confirms Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (average retail price price £25,000) won’t be on the 250-strong wine list planned for Climat, described by my esteemed and wine savvy oppo Kelly as “the most exciting opening on our horizon.” And who am I to disagree?

Still a cluttered ‘work in progress’ at the top of Bridgewater House when I popped up a couple of weeks ago, Chris’s £500,000 wine-friendly dream project, with equally stellar food, is expected to open mid-November. Across Blackfriars Street from where the Treehouse Hotel will sprout next year with a Mary-Ellen McTague helmed restaurant, which will provide a major shot in the arm for the Cathedral end of Deansgate. 

The old Renaissance Hotel that Treehouse will transform remains an eyesore, but the rest of the panorama is urban invigorating. Personal preference: I much prefer restaurant views from this height – Le Mont/Rabbit In The Moon, Manchester House – to 20 Stories.

Chris’s plan is to have 40 per cent of Climat’s list sourced from Burgundy – reds (Pinot Noir and Gamay), whites (Chardonnay, Aligoté) and some surprisingly sophisticated sparklers. Unlike at Chris’s Michelin-rated Covino in Chester, there will be an actual wine list on the website and maybe in print. Rather than scanning the range of enticing, price-tagged  bottles ranked in country order on a ledge up near the ceiling.

To check out the whole project’s credentials we made the pilgrimage to that cosy but cool wine bar on Northgate, the city’s foodie main drag. Think Porta (now extended into what was Joseph Benjamin), The Cheese Shop, Francis Thomas greengrocer’s, Jaunty Goat Coffee.

Covino’s chef Luke Richardson (in the main picture) has moved up to be exec chef across both sites and while Chris enthuses about wine, his forte is food sourcing. Maybe a recent foraging foray into beech sap tapping has yielded a scant bounty, but there’s quality guaranteed from his regular commercial suppliers – Cornwall’s Flying Fish, Growing @Field 28 from up the road in Daresbury and one of my personal faves, Swaledale Butchers in Skipton.

I didn’t ask, but presumed our hogget had come from there. Everything we tried from the reassuringly compact menu was a delight, but this t-bone of teenage lamb was sublime, paired with crisped komatsuna, that mustardy Japanese green and barbecued cucumbers (£16.50). It bookended a meal that began with the fleshiest of Ortiz sardines, spinkled with dried wild oregano flowers and doused in olive oil (£10) and a (very) special of pink cod crudo (£14.50) served with creme fraiche and tiny flavour bomb elderberries. “Hard labour to gather. but worth it,” lamented Luke, standing in front of house. A debutant fellow server, up from London, told me had been recruited for Manchester and was very excited.

There was a pollock’s head dish on the specials board but we chose to order their other take on that undervalued fish. Two taut fillets on a bed of kuri squash were given some punch by a chimichurri sauce (£15.50). For 50p more a roast whole quail was more satisfying, if a little challenging to dismember to its bloodied core.  

My cold rice pudding with sticky damson jam was challenging in that it was such  substntial dollop. The works though was the Valrhona chocolate ganache with plums, the tiny morsel I was allowed to taste from across the table. Each cost £7.50 on a bill that mounted up but felt value. After two glasses of properly dry German Riesling we spent £43 on a bottle of Olga Raffault Chinon Les Barnabes, my kind of go-to late summer red, earthy and smoky. Vinous temptations were all around, a foretaste of things to come in Manchester.

So what to expect from Climat?

Well, a 100 cover restaurant is a big leap upwards (literally) from Covino, which started life as a 300 sq ft wine bar/shop in 2016. It soon expanded, moving site in 2018 to set up on Northgate Street adding small plates to its menu. They were matched by over 130 bottles from around the world ranging from the classics to the funky naturals. Holder of a wine degree, Chris may lean towards classic Burgundies but his 250-strong Manchester list should also reflect mutating wine trends.

As we surveyed the cityscape from the ‘bioclimatic pergola’ (it’s a feature of the terrace, whose plants will service resident bees in four hives on the actual roof) Chris told me: “It’s great to get our foot in the door in Manchester. It represents a big step up for us. The site has so much to offer and we’re going to add something special to a great city. The space will be unique to others with its panoramic views and we can’t wait to share our progress during the build leading up to opening in autumn. Ultimately we want our guests to have a great dining experience and come and share our passion for really good food and drink.”

The addition of Climat caps the final stage of Bruntwood Works’ multi-million-pound renovation of its Blackfriars site. The 1920s-built edifice has been transformed to accommodate workspaces of varying sizes, an auditorium, podcasting studio, ground floor lounge area and coffee shop.

Ye the Climat site really stands out, primarily being constructed of metal and glass, with  limestone floor that yearns to suggest a North Burgundian ‘climat’. Like me, Chris is a Chablis lover and bemoans how global warming is diluting the flintiness of this most mineral of whites. Yes, you can tell I’m really gearing up for this particular Manchester arrival.

Climat, Blackfriars House St Marys, Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA.

Chicago fleetingly came to mind at the launch of Sterling, a new cocktail bar from the Schofield brothers in the basement of Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel. All dark wood and sepulchral lighting with illuminated ranks of bottles the backdrop for some serious bartending. 

It’s the kind of joint you might slip into as dusk falls on The Loop, the Windy City’s old commercial quarter where Route 66 starts, the rumble of the CTA elevated railway a constant overhead. Easy to conjure up the ghosts of Al Capone and the speakeasy roisterers of the Twenties.

Chicago has it place in cocktail history for two different creations. One, The Old Fashioned, has conquered the world. Here’s my homage. The other has an altogether less salubrious back story. As in slipping  customers a Mickey Finn, in order to rob and pitch them into the street. This ‘special’ of raw alcohol, snuff-soaked water and a white liquid supplied by a voodoo doctor was invented over a century ago by Mickey Finn of the Lone Star Saloon in what is now the South Loop.

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t an example on the list at Sterling. Like the Bull & Bear restaurant upstairs the name is financial reference to the Norfolk Street building’s past as the city’s Stock Exchange. As soon as I am through its doors separate from the main hotel’s Joe Schofield presses on me his version of my favourite cocktail, the Negroni. It’s the best in town. He knows what I like. With his history of bartending in hotel, including the American Bar in some place called The Savoy Joe is steering The Sterling, while his brother Daniel looks after the shop at their eponymous bar off Deansgate, which picked up Bar of the Year in the Class Bar Awards 2022 and has just been named in the World’s Top 50 Cocktail Bar List. The brothers also run Atomeca at Deansgate Square.

Joe with his slicked back hair and white staff uniform looks the part. His globetrotting CV includes being named International Bar Tender of the Year in 2018 while working in Singapore and he remains creative director of bespoke botanicals specialists Asterley Bros in London. Both his mixology skills and Asterley’s Estate Vermouth were to the fore in my next drink – a Chicago Lightning (£13.75). The rest of the blend? Rabbit Hole Bourbon, Cacao Nib, Campari and Orange Curaçao,

I was convinced it was a stone cold classic and with that Chicago connection I sought its origins online and across my small but perfectly mixed cocktail book collection – Wondrich, Morgenthaler Jerry Thomas,. In vain. Not a mention.

The reason. “It’s my own creation inspired by interest in Chicago of the Roaring Twenties,” Joe tells me. “Lightning was the Chicago gangsters’ nickname for gunfire.”

Explosive stuff then? All guns blazing? Actually pure mellow magic from a great cocktail list that also includes further Schofield Brothers’ own creations, including Aguila (Herradura Blanco Tequila, pineapple, lime, avocado, coriander, red chilli, black pepper) and Butterscotch (butterscotch, butter, Singleton 12 scotch, lemon, egg white) an classics such as Artist’s Special (Highland Park 12 scotch, redcurrant, sherry lemon) and the Martinez (Roku Gin, Asterley Bros. Estate Vermouth, dry cherry, orange Bitters.

Equally impressive is the wine offering from Sterling and Atomeca co-founder James Brandwood (pictured above with Joe in the wine tasting vault). Originally from south Manchester, James began his 20-year hospitality career at university in Leeds, developing a passion for wine after moving to Australia in 2007. He managed venues across Sydney including the prestigious Rockpool Bar & Grill. General manager is Paola Mariotti, whose 5-star hotel CV includes the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy and The Blue Bar at The Berkeley in London. 

The bar snack menu is courtesy of Lush by Tom Kerridge, the two-Michelin starred chef responsible for Bull & Bear restaurant located on the former trading floor. Expect truffle cheese gougeres, whipped taramasalata, squid ink tapioca cracker, pickled red onion and crispy potato bites, creme fraiche and caviar.

Sterling, with a guest capacity of just over 100, is now open for bookings and walk-ins – Tuesday-Friday 5:30-12:30pm and Saturday 2pm-12:30pm. Bookings are available via this link. Stock Exchange Hotel, 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester, M2 1DW.

It’s the beery equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau – well kind of. I’ve never twigged why, Kent apart, we don’t celebrate the UK’s new ‘green’ hops harvest by brewing with them. Virtually straight from the stalk. It’s a big thing in the craft ale heartlands of the USA.

On a road trip stop-off in Washington State’s hop capital, Yakima, we were devastated to discover we were one week early to join in the annual ‘Fresh Hop Party’. Bet it was an epic celebration in the heart of the fertile volcanic soil where 75 per cent of American hops are grown. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest.

Victoria Baths on Hathersage Road becomes the epicentre of UK beer culture for four days

At Indy Man Beer Con at Manchester’s Victoria Baths (Sept 29-Oct 2) we aim to make up for that miss in a small way by sampling ‘Hops are Green’, an Extra Special Bitter created by JW Lees specially for the festival, returning after a  two year hiatus. 

We suggest you do the same. Nominally sold out, IMBC have just released a batch of extra tickets.Tickets are available for the following sessions: evenings 5:30pm-10.30pm  Thursday/Friday/Saturday; daytimes 11pm-4pm, Friday/ Saturday; and on Sunday 1pm-6pm. Buy via this link but hurry!

Of all the area’s traditional family brewers 200-year-old Middleton-based Lees are the ones who get down most with the craft beer kids. They’ve long shared with Cloudwater some of their legendary, long-lived yeast strains. Just this week I tasted a Cloudwater ‘JW Lees’ DIPA in a can that was quite splendidly balanced – at 9%!

Lees’ own ‘Hops are Green’ is a quite different beast, inspired by a need to start a conversation about sustainability in beer. The industry is facing multiple challenges from climate change and inflation to water shortages and demographic shifts. 

Independent Manchester Beer Convention (to give its full title) and JW Lees wanted to explore how you might brew with a lower carbon footprint, which helps the brewer run a successful business, delivers a beer which the craft beer drinker loves, but which doesn’t break the bank. Beer brewed and drunk locally, with more locally sourced ingredients could be part of the answer.

That means marking the sustainble progress made by domestic hop growers rather than importing from far-away Yakima (or even New Zealand). Groundbreaking Brook House Hops in Herefordshire fits that bill admirably.

Matt Gorecki, Head of Beer at the festival told me: “We all love American Hops and we have for years, but we can’t ignore what people like Brook House are doing right here on the doorstep.They’re growing some mega stuff! When we first spoke to JW Lees and heard Michael’s story about working with the same farmers and fields as his grandfather we just felt that we could bring together the best of both worlds.”

Lees were definitely up for it. Head Brewer Michael Lees-Jones, said: “We are experienced in adapting as the world changes around us.  In order to stay relevant and to keep pouring beer for the next 200 years we need to remain curious and to experiment with different ideas. We think it is great that the IMBC team are asking questions about sustainability in beer as we consider how we can be a more sustainable brewery.”

I haven’t tasted ‘Hops are Green’ yet, but like the sound of it – an Extra Special Bitter. “Typically a malt forward brew using English yeast and firm but not over the top hopping, it will be finished using freshly harvested green hops from the forward thinking hop growers at Brook House.” 

So what are Green or ‘Wet’ Hops?

An ingredient  with a lower carbon footprint due to their lack of time in an energy intensive kiln, where hops are usually cured to preserve and intensify their flavour. They’re used in an array of seasonal beers in the US around harvest time but curiously not so much in the UK. They’re grown in Herefordshire and were transported to the brewery by road. It will preview at the festival and be available at several JW Lees pubs as well as Port Street Beer House.

This beer is the first in a series of beers produced with sustainability in mind, with Cheltenham based Deya Brewery, picking up the baton to create the next product following the festival. Any brewery wishing to get involved can contact the IMBC team through their social media channels.

Welcome back Indyman

Since its inception in 2012 Independent Manchester Beer Convention (Indy Man Beer Con/IMBC) has proved a world class showcase for the most forward thinking breweries from the UK and beyond. Everything about it (apart from the amount consumed) is different from the traditional beer festival. Not least the venue – the Grade II listed, architectural gem Victoria Baths.

Inclusivity and diversity are part of its appeal. And great street food. This year’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness of the impact of the brewing industry sees special, cross-Atlantic collaborative brewing and innovative approaches to recycling spent products.

It’s a big step up from that first pioneering IMBC, created by Jonny Heyes, founder of Common & Co (Common, The Beagle, Nell’s Pizza, Summer Beer Thing). Just two rooms were used, hosting only 20 breweries. Nowadays more than 60 breweries will occupy every nook and cranny . From the main ‘stages’ in the old swimming pools to tasting areas and snug bars in the Turkish Baths, the breweries will pour a selection of their beers to thousands of beer lovers and converts alike.

Question. What the devil is the owner of ‘the UK’s toughest pub’ doing at Manchester Food and Drink Festival debating the food matching merits of craft beer over cocktails?

Of course, every city boasts a roughhouse contender but the Kray twins’ locals around London did have the Wild West edge back in the Sixties. Notably the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, a local of mine too for a while, as it happens. a quarter of a century after Ronnie Kray notoriously shot gangster rival George Cornell there in 1966.

Brewer and media star Jaega Wise now runs another past Kray haunt, the Victorian Tavern on the Hill in Walthamstow, which once had a “a reputation for being a bloodbath,” according to Sky TV’s Britain’s Hardest. It’s not like that these days with a Jamaican food menu and beers from Jaega’s award-winning brewery, Wild Card, samples of which should feature in the Octopus Books showcase at the MFDF Hub on Saturday, September 24.

Jaega, named Britain’s best brewer in 2018 by the Guild of Beer Writers and winning an equivalent award this year, is promoting her recently published Wild Brews (Kyle hb, £22). At 6pm she comes up against Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley, co-authors of 60 Second Cocktails, to determine if beer or cocktails should be crowned the winning beverage.

It’s not a straight stand-off, hops and malt versus spirits and botanicals, since her primer for home brewers is subtitled “from sour and fruit beers to farmhouse ales”. A sophisticated far cry from the Boots kits of yore, then.

34-year-old Jaega’s talents are spread interestingly these days. I listen to her regularly when she presents on BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. Her most recent assignment explored the racial connotations of fried chicken. Her telly career includes Channel 5’s The Wine Show and Beer Masters, available on Amazon Prime, where Jaega and James Blunt judged “Europe’s best home brewers going head-to-head across five challenges brewing popular beer styles and taking on creative and technical challenges.” Think Bake-off with ‘stuck mash’ instead of ‘soggy bottoms’.

Filming the latter show appropriately coincided with the gestation of Wild Brews. “The book took me three and a half years… writing’s not really my thing,” Jaega laments. Modesty from a Nottingham girl, who once considered studying English at university before a volte face into chemical engineering. “You see my scientific training in the technical side of the book, but I was determined to make it accessible. It’s both an introduction for the beginner and of use to a more advanced brewer, who wants to be more adventurous with styles.”

Certainly when Wild Card was launched a decade ago sours and saisons, lambic and goses didn’t trip off the average beer tippler’s tongue. London, where Jaega had moved, had only 10 breweries. Multiply that many times now.

She had dabbled in home brewing at university. But it was not until, disillusioned with the day job, she started working in a pub, she was swept up in the hop-driven zeitgeist, joining friends William Harris and Andrew Kirkby, who had first dreamed up Wild Card over a kitchen table. After nomadic years ‘cuckoo brewing’ on others’ kit Wild Card eventually  found their first Walthamstow site, before moving to the nearby Lockwood brewery in 2017.

Result: today’s mini-empire at the northern end of the Victoria Lime with a taproom at Lockwood and another in their Barrel Store, plus the Tavern, overlooking gentrifying Walthamstow, with a Jamaican food residency from The Jam Shack.

Jaega says: “We are very proud to have taken over the pub, the only one in the Higham Hill area. Pubs are incredibly important. They and the role of the publican are not given enough credit. There are issues of loneliness that they can help combat. Weddings, funerals, all kinds of community activity –  pubs can be central.”

And, of course, there’s the beer. Like pubs, it’s under threat too in economically perilous times. Wild Card, by necessity, concentrated on more traditional styles to start off but is now in the forefront of US-inspired ‘craft beer’ with – you guessed it – benchmark NEIPA. Matthew Curtis in his definitive Modern British Beer (my review) described it as “redolently juicy with a fruit cocktail of flavours including peach, apricot, melon and pineapple that’s typically characteristic of the New England IPA.”

Peruse the Wild Card website, though, and you’ll discover a much more diverse array of beer styles that live up to the ‘Wild Brews’ tag. Alongside the current Twilight NEIPA there’s an Amaretto Sour, a Damson Sour, a Cuvee Saison sharing bottle and a Tropical Stout. 

I wonder which of these head brewer Jaega will bring up  to Manchester to pair with probable barbecue accompaniment? “You’ll have to wait and see,” she says.

What she can reveal: “This is the food and drink world I’m lucky enough to operate in. We are so lucky in this county to produce drinks of such  high standard. Our whisky is so delicious, and then I can get the used barrels and the chance to ply with flavours. It’s my life.”

That professional life has obviously encountered pitfalls. As a young woman of Caribbean heritage from the most deprived area of Nottingham entering a male-dominated profession. “Change is slow,” she says. “Statistics clearly show considerably fewer women in senior positions across the whole UK economy, not just in brewing.”

Jaega is obviously not one to shirk a challenge. So watch out Team Cocktail this Saturday.

“Wine has for too long been seen as the obvious match for food and I can see cocktails pairing well with some dishes, but beer is hard to beat. It handles spice better and is a perfect accompaniment to cheese.”

If you don’t catch Jaega at MFDF’s Octopus Cookbook Confidential on Saturday, September 22 don’t fret. She’ll be back in Manchester the following weekend as Wild Card makes its pouring debut at IndyManBeerCon.

Delayed by a week out of respect for the national mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II, the programme for the 25th Manchester Food and Drink Festival has emerged remarkably unscathed. Amid much rearrangement only the MFDF Curry Club has been postponed and will be rescheduled as soon as possible, while the the MFDF Wine Fest will now be taking place October 7 and 8 just after the Festival at the amazingly refurbished New Century.

Following guidance from Manchester City Council the The Festival will now start on Thursday, September 22 and run until Sunday, October 2. The Awards Gala Dinner,customarily the closing event of the Festival, remains on its scheduled day, Monday, September 26, at Escape To Freight Island.

The free-to-enter Festival Hub is once again on Cathedral Gardens, but the dates have been switched to Thursday September 22-Sunday September 25 and Thursday September 29-Sunday October 2. The Hub is closed Monday to Wednesday. The full programme is now as follows… 


The Manchester Beer Bar x Joseph Holt 12pm-11pm.
Brewing up the road since 1849 and with 127 pubs across the region, Holts are official lager partner and will brew a special 25th Anniversary Festival beer and ale. The bar will also be serving beers from 25 further Manchester breweries.

MFDF Street Food Village 


Il Forno – pizzas from the wood-fired oven and Italian classics.

Super Bao – fluffy buns with savoury fillings.

House of Habesha – Eritrean and Ethiopian soul food.

Cyprus Kouzina – Greek Cypriot regional treats.

Hip Hop Chip Shop – chippy tea with a twist from the ‘hood. Recommended.

Meksikan – handcrafted tacos.

Mi & Pho – Award-winning Vietnamese food. 

Heavenly Indian – authentic street faves.

Cafe Cannoli – Sicilian pastry tubes of joy.

Guzzle – Vintage caravan with ice cream and a retro espresso machine.


Senor Paella – Spanish rice kings.

I Knead Pizza – Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas.

What’s Your Beef – Ethically sourced, grass-fed beef burgers. 

Parmogeddon – North East’s parmos with their own twists.

Herbivorous – 100 per cent vegan comfort food.

Bab K – Korean using fresh, local ingredients.

Mama Sue’s – Dogs with an array of toppings.

Cha Cha Churros – Vegan take on the fried dough.

Spoon Desserts – Crepes and waffles.


Octopus Cookbook Confidential with top chefs and industry experts

Saturday September 24, Festival Hub Kitchen

12.30pm – Pip Payne and Nicky Corbishley: dinner budgeting tips.

1.30pm – Joe Woodhouse, Josh Katz & David Bez: veggie recipe inspiration.

2.30pm – Edd Kimber and Rahul Mandal: discussing their love of puddings.

3.30pm – School of Wok’s Jeremy Pang: giving a demo from his latest book and introducing his simple Wok Clock cooking technique.

4.30pm – Kate Humble and Lia Leendertz: talking about their books Home Cooked and The Almanac respectively. – Jaega Wise (pictured above) v Joel Harrison in conversation with Neil Ridley: a friendly debate about booze. Theme: beer v cocktails.

MFDF Cookery School at the MFDF Masterclass Kitchen
Sunday September 25 and Sunday October 2

Come and join a selection of local chefs and expert producers as they share their tips. Join the likes of Tampopo and Ancoats Coffee as they share some of their secrets.

The Leftovers Kitchen with Recycle for Greater Manchester

Saturday October 1, Festival Hub Kitchen

This year, MFDF are teaming up with Recycle for Greater Manchester and Open Kitchen MCR to host ‘The Leftover Kitchen’ – a full-day event surrounding demonstrations on how to ditch excess food waste and cook amazing meals with leftovers from the fridge. 

Festival Hub, Cathedral Gardens, 12pm-11pm

Thursday September 22-Sunday September 25 and Thursday September 29-Sunday October 2.

Split across two weekends you can expect….

Dghnt MCR – Freshly made brioche doughnuts.

Paradiso Authentic Italian – Italian desserts including tiramisu.

The Flat Baker – Brazilian-influenced breads and pastries.

DevilDog Sauces – Small batch chilli sauces and seasonings.

Prodjuice Juicery – Cold pressed raw juices.

Gourmet Jay – Rolls, pies and pastries.

Two Lasses – Made-from-scratch British rum and rum liqueurs.

Small Farmers Coffee – Jamaican Blue Coffee specialists.

The Doughnuteers – Handcrafted doughnuts.

Global Nomad – Sauces, spices and preserves.

Ancoats Distillery – Gins, rums, vodka and ales.

The Chocolate Cafe – Popular Ramsbottom dessert spot come to the city.

Prendi il Biscotti – Italian biscuits and sweet treats handmade in Saddleworth.

World Famous Hot Sauce – Small batch all natural, gluten free and vegan hot sauce. from DJ Elliot Eastwick.

Root2Ginger – Alcohol-free ginger drinks. 

Prestwich Gin – Award-winning local small batch craft gin.


Thursday September 22-Sunday September 25 and Thursday September 29-Sunday October 2.

A Festival first, coming to the Hub for both long weekends to create the ultimate British barbie. Sponsored by Weber, the Festival Fire Pit will invite some of the region’s best loved chefs to cook over fire for a massive festival feast. Among the line-up Caroline Martins, founder of the Sao Paolo Project, Francisco Martinez from Fazenda and Robert Owen Brown. 

Coffee Rave with Factory Coffee
Friday September 30, 12pm-3pm
MFDF Coffee Shop of the Year nominee Factory Coffee, will be serving the ultimate pick-me-up with their viral ‘Coffee Rave’. Enjoy a free espresso or flat white. Or, in partnership with Rogue Artisan ice cream, a complimentary affogato. All soundtracked by a local DJ.


A fantastic programme of events is taking place across the city too showcasing some of Manchester’s most exciting restaurants, bars, cafes and chefs. Highlights from the Festival Fringe are below. For the full programme, details and T&Cs visit this link.

Wine Fest

New Century, Friday October 7-Saturday October 8

The first event to take place at the revamped New Century in Manchester’s NOMA district features the best win retailer line-up in years – the local likes of Its Alive, Sip, Suppher, Grape to Grain, Cork of the North, Italy Abroad, UkiYO Republic and Isca Wines,. Tickets can be purchased from the MFDF website and are £15 a had.

Unicorn Grocery, Chorlton

Saturday September 24
Wholefood legends Unicorn Grocery are celebrating 26 years of providing M21 and beyond with wholesome groceries and fresh produce. Expect free food from Tibetan Kitchen – Authentic Tibetan Food and music by genre bending brass outfit Twisted Tubes.

Platt Fields will host a Harvest Festival celebrating urban market gardening

Eat Well MCR Harvest Festival

Platt Fields, September 17-18. 

Platt Fields Market Garden is the venue celebrating a variety of autumnal produce alongside lovely food, drink, music and amazing vibes. 

£25 for 25 years Offer
To celebrate MFDF’s 25 years, Manchester’s restaurant community has put together a host of special menus to showcase what they do at an appropriate special price. All restaurants taking part will provide a meal and drink offer for £25 per person. Venues include:

District – The Thai barbecue cookery experts are serving up three new wave Thai dishes. Embankment Kitchen – The brasserie’s ‘A Taste of Embankment’ for two offer includes a host of dishes from the seasonal menu with a couple of their win cocktails thrown in.

Mi&Pho – Northenden’s award-winning Vietnamese restaurant is offering any to starters and any two mains for the 25 quid.

20 Stories – Enjoy a three course dinner and glass of wine with a spectacular view.

Harvey Nichols – Antipasti fanatics should head over to the Deli Bar @ Harvey Nichols, where £25 a head will provide a charcuterie board, accompanied by two glasses of white, red or rose wine.

Head to theMFDF website for details on all offers. 

The Festival Fundraising Banquet with Eatwell MCR Hello Oriental will now take place on Wednesday, November 30, 7.30pm-10.30pm. 

Non-profit, social enterprise Eat Well MCR’s fund-raiser is hosted by underground Chinese market hall Hello Oriental, showcasing Manchester’s best East Asian and Southeast Asian food producers. The line-up includes…

Hello Oriental – The hosts celebrate East Asian street food across three floors. Comprising a restaurant, bar, cafe, bakery, events space and fully-stocked supermarket, it received a rave review from Sunday Times critic Marina O’Loughlin, who called it a ‘northern powerhouse… grungy, futuristic and fun’.
Neon Tiger – A new urban drinking and dining space serving rural Thai barbecue snacks and small plates. Neon Tiger will curate a gin-based cocktail using Manchester Gin.
Rice Over Everything – Burmese-born home cook May Kyi Noo is best known for her range of incredible chilli oils that focus on complex flavours, not just heat.

New Wave Ramen – Nominated for ‘Best Food Trader’ at this year’s Manchester Food and Drink Awards for their umami-rich ramen bowls served up at the Mackie Mayor food hall.
Tampopo – The East Asian street food pioneers have been delighting customers for 25 years with their vibrant flavours, their influences stretching from Yangon to Kuala Lumpur.
WowYauChow – Not your standard Chinese, Henry Yau’s operation sets its sights on impeccable street food combined with British Chinese favourites.
Diners can expect platters of sushi and sashimi, dim sum, salads, umami-rich ramen, fiery aromatic curries and platters of fragrant rice, followed by a selection of desserts.
Tickets are £70 per person and are currently available to purchase here. All proceeds from tickets will help provide meals to people in need across Greater Manchester.


Don’t forget to vote for your favourite food heroes in the Awards via the website. But make haste. Closing date for votes is midnight on September 16. The Gala Dinner presentation is sponsored by Bruntwood and is taking place at Escape to Freight Island on Monday, September 26.  

Midnight at Colombo Airport, stepping out into the humid, slightly foetid tropical night after an 11 hour flight. The usual welcome on such trips, a taxi driver flourishing a card with my name, misspelt. All is not as it was meant to be, alas. A small group press trip has turned out to be just solo me after the others bailed out and the Sri Lankan tourist folk have buggered up the itinerary, too.

My scheduled B&B is taken; my host is under the impression I was arriving the previous night. He shows pity, though, pours us some wine and accommodates me in a box room come cupboard. Over breakfast he tells me a government minister had recently been assassinated in his own swimming pool along the road. My good fortune? The airport runway has been patched up after yet another Tamil Tigers bombing raid.

All this is long ago. The island once known as Serendib and, in colonial times, Ceylon, is in volatile chaos once again as I write, but not with the sense of danger pervading that 2005 visit. It was post the horrors of Tsunami but peace with Tamil rebels was yet several years away. As vivid as the elephant sanctuary, tea plantations and temples of Kandy was an encounter in a hotel outside that Buddhist stronghold. Karen was a former Norwegian police officer seconded to control (with an ever diminishing team) a breakaway Tamil territory. She was driving back there after ferrying a wounded rebel colonel by airbus to hospital captivity in the capital.

Despite all this turbulent back story I was greeted warmly in every village and fed royally, my chilli heat tolerance a great help. Looking back, though, I never really got to grips with the country or its cuisine.

That’s where Cynthia Shanmugalingam comes in. Her recently published, beautifully illustrated Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka (Bloomsbury, £26) explores both, from the perspective of a Tamil expatriate in England. Coventry, where her parents arrived in the Sixties, is a far cry from her family’s origins in Point Pedro at the northern tip of Sri Lanka but the anecdotes that link each life are at the core of an evocative narrative that transcends mere cookbook. 

“I felt it was a special honour to be able to tell the real story of an immigrant Tamil kid like me, and I didn’t want to do a sort of tourist idea of Sri Lanka. I wanted to write a cookbook with all the melancholy and joy that comes with losing a homeland,” the former Treasury economist told the Independent newspaper. So, yes, it doesn’t fight shy of addressing the internecine conflict that overshadowed her growing up, while still conveying the sheer sensuous joy of the places she knew, the food she ate.

The 80 recipes are revelatory, too, making it easier to recreate at home the raw and pickled dishes, sambols, curries, rice and rotis, coconut and, yes,  that are at the heart of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Cynthia will be showcasing all of these when her own restaurant, Rambutan, naturally, opens in Borough Market in October, capitalising (and perhaps improving? upon the success of groundbreaking London Sri Lankan restaurants such as the Hoppers chain, Paradise and, my own favourite in Kingly Street, Soho, Kolamba. Meanwhile, flying the flag in the North West is Stockport-based Little Lanka, shortlisted for ‘Food Trader of the Year’ in the 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Awards.

What I can’t see on the Little Lanka take-out menu is Mutton Rolls, a hugely popular street food dish I first encountered when I finally arrived at the prime reason for my Sri Lanka trip, the Colombo Food and Drink Festival. So good I ate three. The name suggest there’s bread involved; think again. Let’s turn to page 266 of Rambutan for a proper evaluation – and a recipe I really didn’t do justice to when I attempted it recently.

Cynthia suggests Colombo’s benchmark mutton rolls are to be found in the quirky Hotel Nippon – consisting of a slow-cooked mutton curry, wrapped in a Chinese pancake, breaded and then fried into a crisp, red-hot snack. The hotel is in an area known as Slave Island, home to the 40,000 strong Sri Lankan Malay community, whose cafes serve deep-fried cow’s lung and a tripe curry. Let’s admit I’m happy just to pursue the mutton (I used hogget) roll, recipe below (my version and how it should look)…


2tbsp coconut or veg oil; 1 finely diced red onion; 10 fresh curry leaves; 1 garlic clove, finely chopped; 2cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped; 300g mutton (or lamb) trimmed of fat an diced into 2cm cubes; 2cm piece of cinnamon stick; ½tsp sugar; 2tbsp SL curry powder (below); 100g waxy potatoes diced into 1cm cubes; 100ml coconut milk; ¼ whole nutmeg grated.

Coating: 100g panko breadcrumbs; 1tsp ground turmeric; 250g plain white flour; 1tsp salt; 3 large organic or free range eggs; 200ml milk; 200ml water; 100ml veg oil for shallow frying; ½tsp meat powder (below).

Sri Lankan curry powder: 30g coriander seeds,15g cumin seed,15g black peppercorns 2tbsp coconut or vegetable oil 2, 10 fresh curry leaves, 70g dried Kashmiri or medium hot red chillies, ¼ tsp ground turmeric.

Meat powder: 4 whole cardamom pods; 2tsp fennel seeds; 4 cloves; 2.5cm piece of cinnamon stick; ¼ nutmeg, grated.

Method (condensed)

Fry the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add curry leaves garlic and ginger for a minute, then the hogget, cinnamon, sugar, salt and SL curry powder. Just cover the lamb with cold water and bring it to a gentle simmer, to last for a couple of hours.

While the lamb is cooking boil the seasoned potatoes for six minutes, drain. 

Scoop the cooking liquid from the meat. Reduce it in a small saucepan for 10 minutes, to thicken, then add drained potatoes and coconut milk, stirring in nutmeg and meat powder. Combine with meat again and remove cinnamon stick.

Make coating by slightly crushing the panko and half the turmeric together. Put the flour, the remaining turmeric and salt in a mixing bowl. Break the eggs, whisk in then gradually add milk until smooth; whisk in the water now, a third at a time.

Heat veg oil in a small pan, pour enough batter into the pan so that it’s 2mm thick. Swirl it around to let it cook for around 30 second so it’s cooked. Transfer and keep warm and repeat until you have eight pancakes. To make the rolls take one one warm pancake and place two tablespoons of the meat mixture. Fold the pancake tightly around like a burrito to seal. Repeat. Coat them all with breadcrumbs. 

Fry two mutton rolls in a heavy-based pan with oil to a depth of 1cm, two minutes on each side, using tongs to hold and tun them. Repeat with the rest of the rolls. Keep warm, serve with sriracha.

So what’s a rambutan and what can you do with it?

The name of Cynthia’s book and imminent restaurant is Rambutan. Oddly this lychee-like fruit has a rather minor role in the narrative, taking centre stage in a dessert recipe I’m eager to attempt – ‘Rambutan and Rose frozen Falada’. 

It features first in one of the most vivid chapters, ‘Eat Fruit with Salt and Chilli’, introduced by her favourite uncle: “One day Athappa put a small hairy, red and yellow fruit into my hands from a brown paper bag and told me to crack it open. A rambutan. I dug my nails into the crisp, spiky shell and prised out a translucent orb, a meaty scented jelly, all sugar and perfume and a faint sourness at the same time.”

This woman can write. My main picture is from the book, taken by the brilliant San Francisco-based photographer, Alex Lau.

Paul Jackson Pollock, born January 28 1912, Cody, Wyoming, died Springs, New York, August 11 1956; Caroline Gameiro Lopes Martins, born February 26 1986, São Paulo, Brazil, currently running a fine dining pop-up in Ancoats, Manchester, named after her birth city.

Bespattered. It is one of my favourite words. Usually the ensuing messy chaos is accidental but in certain hands maybe it transcends random… Take Abstract Expressionism, that jazzy, canvas-bespattering art movement that caused quite a splash when it sprang up in mid-1940s New York. Its mythic master Jackson Pollock said of it: “I think they should look not for, but look passively…it should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed”.

A typical Jackson Pollock canvas – inspiration for edible art forms?

Maybe the climactic dessert of Caroline Martins’ new 12 course tasting menu at the Sao Paulo Project is in a minor key alongside Pollock’s provocative Mahleresque symphonies in squirted household paint, but it has the advantage of being hugely tasty, too, thanks in no small part to the flavours of her native Brazil that pervade Caroline’s culinary art. 

That £58 tasting menu. currently available at her residency at Blossom Street Social in Ancoats (opposite Sugo and the Hip Hop Social), showcases exotic ingredients such as cumaru (tonka beans), jilo (slightly bitter tomato-aubergine cross), papaya seeds, artisanal dende (palm) oil, preserved Brazilian green fig, farofa (cassava crumble) and jambu flower alongside some cleverly sourced local ingredients.

Great to see a newcomer in her repertoire, vegetables from Cinderwood Market Garden, served simply with a parmesan sauce, brazil nut hummus and an olive crumble. Quite a contrast to the stalwart rosemary-scented edible beef fat candle, crafted out of beef rump cap dripping, where another herb, lovage, colours the moat of melted fat to dip your Brazilian cheese rolls into.

Lobster tail moqueca, Caroline’s take on a traditional seafood stew, and dry aged rib-eye feel surprisingly straightforward in contrast but the pre-dessert is the harbinger of wackiness ahead. A lime ice lolly, accompanied by a Brazilian honey liqueur is a kind of cool counterpoint to the candle, offering a chance in essence to construct your own Caipirinha.

Then the fireworks begin. Maybe in her fleeting appearance on BBC’s Great British Menu her sheer ambition perhaps undid her in her low-scoring ‘fish course’ but she is undeterred in playfully pushing back the boundaries. Hence what is literally a ‘signature’ dish with the likes of basil custard and coconut yoghurt scrawled across a huge black base. Dotted with  cubes of coconut candy, cassava biscuit, guava candy and banana candy, the centrepiece is a smashed ‘bowl’ of Manchester’s finest artisan chocolate, Dormouse (from specially imported Brazilian beans), containing passion fruit mousse, rose petals, coconut granola, merengue and marshmallow. 

Our seen-it-all chihuahua companion, Captain Smidge had kept his equipoise after a surfeit of flash-freezing liquid nitrogen in the build-up. The completed version did look the kind of spread best suited to his natural tongue action; we spooned it all up determinedly.

Six months on since first tasting it, the Sao Paulo food offering has forged ever stronger bonds between British and Brazilian raw materials. Unique? Possibly. It has certainly earned her a nomination for Chef of the Year in the 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Awards.

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. That expansive chocolate pud is descended from the presentational adventures of Grant Achatz. Not to be confused with the unpalatable Grant Schapps, Achatz has now held three Michelin star for 12 years at Alinea in Chicago. And yes his approach has led to some ‘serious analysis’. 

Grant Achatz has perfected a scattergun approach to presentation of his stellar food at Alinea

If you really must, delve into Hungry for Art‘a semiotic reading of food signifying art in the episode Grant Achatz (2016) in the documentary Chef’s Table’. The first chapter focuses on the intertextuality between a dish presented in Netflix’s Chef’s Table and the paintings of Jackson Pollock.

Better use of your time? Check out our own next chapter, Ancoats Expressionism According to Caroline Martins’ Great Brazilian Menu.

Caroline Martins’ Sao Paolo Project is at Blossom Street Social, 51 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AJ.