Spoiler alert. Ancoats is so last year. Not demonstrably, so but Manchester’s coolest ‘hood is yielding fewer food and drink surprises. The action has moved elsewhere. In contrasting directions. A new wave of indie chefs is bravely fermenting away in other corners of the city centre and further afield. The emphasis is understandably casual. Their rivals for attention, a flurry of gigantic food hall projects, arguably takes casual to a frenetically ridiculous level. 

Certainly the ‘golden goose’ seems to be laying its commercial eggs everywhere. That metaphor came to me in response to a puff for the latest project rolling out its CGIs for our delectation – Kargo at Salford Quays. “Blend Family is adept at building new, unique food hall experiences, intricately engineered to become community hubs. With a mix of design and culinary excellence, Blend Family, in partnership with Quayside MediaCity, will showcase the best in up-and-coming food and drink talent, hand chosen and incubated to bring the best in world food under one roof.”

That’s not to diss the street food credentials of Blend, who operate the Cutlery Works in Sheffield (here’s my report) and also GPO in Liverpool, which prompted Guardian reviewer Grace Dent to opine: “I need to ask a very honest question here: are food halls ever a truly satisfying dining experience? I’ve no doubt they seem so on paper and in the marketing meetings, they’re fantastic for filling old, unloved but historically important spaces and they’re good news for downward-spiralling city centres. Yet in reality they’re noisy, unrelaxing and the food is often patchy, with the occasional gem hidden among the colossal choice of menus.”

Spot on, but such criticism is not stifling the food hall stampede. Manchester and its hinterland already boast Exhibition, Society, New Century Hall, Exhibition, Escape to Freight Island (shut for months but due to reopen amid much-publicised unrest from laid-off staff), Stretford, Sale (about to shut permanently) GRUB, Hatch, Hello Oriental, Stockport’s The Produce Hall, the pioneering Altrincham Market plus its siblings Macclesfield’s Picturedrome and Mackie Mayor, this month named the UK’s best by a global travel site.

Now, alongside Kargo (echoes of orthographically challenged foodie neighbourhood Kampus) in the new Quays revamp, Central Bay, we can also expect two further massive projects, this time on post-industrial sites.

Located in the city’s largest factory and metalworks north of Piccadilly Station, the 5,000 capacity Diecast will open in phases from summer 2023 onwards, and will be home to Manchester’s biggest beer garden, brewery, open air BBQ kitchens and a ‘NeoPan’ pizzeria. There are also plans for it to be a huge ‘creative resourc’e. It’s from the team that have done such a good job with Firehouse & Ramona in the NQ, this time aiming to create “one of the most exciting destinations on the planet.”

Further big dreams, from an interloper, Allied London’s shipping container food and drink operator Boxpark. They are calling their new 30,000 sq ft complex on Water Street overlooking the River Irwell Shipyard. Its neighbours will be the Factory International arts venue and Soho House (neither on my bucket list). 

No comment on this revelation of its dynamic: “Early plans show that graffiti, huge graphics and industrial features will be part of the aesthetic for the exterior, giving it a Williamsburg Brooklyn kind of feel.” Expect the food hall to offer “a mix of artisan vendors and rolling smaller stalls.”

These are the high profile beasts but they are not alone on the horizon. In the slightly stalled First Street new frontier plans have been submitted for a 400 cover ground floor food hall open to the public in a student accommodation block called The House of Social. World cuisine is the selling point of a fifth food hall in the pipeline on Bury New Road, Broughton. Plans have been approved for a former car repair centre to be transformed into TBNR Foodhall, a 200 cover canteen dining experience with upstairs shisha bar. 

Spring awakening for a new wave of restaurants

You’ve probably gathered by now this kind of large communal dining experience is well down my list; the street food scene seems to have been hi-jacked by commercial expediency. Harsh? Maybe the lockdown years, which have made so many folk all the more eager to mingle, have made me keener for a more intense encounter with quality food and drink.

It is interesting that two of my Manchester food heroes have jumped ship from their food hall tenancies. Caroline ‘Sao Paulo Project’ Martins no longer has an outlet in Exhibition and is back at her original pop-up venue, Blossom Street Social with ‘Sampa’; Michael Clay, chef/patron at its stalwart Ancoats neighbour Elnecot, launched his Anglo-Saxon pizza project, Dokes in Society but has now shifted it to a permanent site in Prestwich.

Elsewhere it’s good to see the sites of The Creameries. Chorlton and Cocktail, Ramen Beer + Bun in the Northern Quarter finding new foodie occupants.

Late in 2022 I confess I expected far more closures. Instead a fresh wave of talent has come on board, reinforcing the city’s culinary upturn first initiated by Ancoats warriors Mana, Erst, Jane Eyre, Rudy’s, Edinburgh Castle, Street Urchin and in the city proper 10 Tib Lane and Another Hand. My new faves (including outliers in Marple Bridge, Liverpool and Haslingden) are: 

Higher Ground

A new Manchester superstar is born. I am an unapologetic champIon of chef Joseph Otway and the rest of the stellar team, who have finally laid down restaurant roots in their adopted city after pop-ups, a pandemic where they created their own Cinderwood/ market garden, and created Flawd natural wine bar at Islington Marina (still going strong). Read about their commitment to sustainable animal husbandry here. This nose to tail ethos results in my beloved pig’s head terrine.


I had much fun celebrating the signature snack of this rooftop wine-led restaurant – the vol-au-vent but the small plate menu from exec chef Luke Richardson and head chef Simon Ulph offers more sophisticated delights, as does a wine list majoring on Burgundy. Big plus the cityscape views from the eighth floor of Blackfriars House.

The Alan

Check out my recent review celebrating the impact new exec chef James Hulme has had on the menu in one of Manchester’s coolest looking dining spaces.

Our Place

Iain Thomas was the chef who launched The Alan restaurant in 2022 to great acclaim. Now he and the hotel’s former marketing head David O’Connor have set up this itinerant sustainably focused supper club, initially at The People’s History Museum. Read my interview with Iain about his food philosophy.

Stock Market Grill

Tom Kerridge was always going to be a hard act follow after he pulled his Bull & Bear project from the upmarket Stock Exchange Hotel. Cocktail kings the Schofield Brothers, who’d already established their Sterling Bar in the basement stepped into the breach and hired Eleanor Bristow from The French as front of house and highly rated Joshua Reed-Cooper (ex-Simon Rogan/Where The Light Gets In) in the kitchen. Classic grill cuisine the aim to match the affluent ambience of the former trading floor.


If the converted Stock Exchange represents old money then this ’contemporary Japanese’ restaurant, a £3m investment, is a bold splashing of the cash. It’s undoubtedly mega plush with menu prices to match (£150 for the 11-course kanseiki menu) but the sushi/sashimi raw materials are of the highest quality and the whole food operation is steered by chef/patron Michael Shaw, who brings an impressive Michelin pedigree.


Bistro and bottle shop it calls itself, so there’s a fine choice of wine to accompany squid bolognese and other quirky dishes from chef Craig Sherrington’s imaginative menu that helps this Marple Bridge newcomer transcend the neighbourhood gem tag. My Fold fave the toasted corn dish (the main image of this piece).

Restaurant Metamorphica

I previewed this ambitious tasting menu operation before it opened in under the radar Haslingden; a return review visit for Manchester Confidential confirmed the star quality of one-man-band chef Steven Halligan.


I made a rare visit to Liverpool for the recent launch of this new-build restaurant/bar, where chef Daniel Heffy puts to good use his top-end Michelin experience at Frantzen in Stockholm. The name also signals his commitment to the UK’s own northern provenance. Everything came together beautifully in a dish of Cornish white crab, soured cream, pickle silverskin onions and fennel on buttered toast. Like Higher Ground and Climat in Manchester it benefits from the support of developer landlords Bruntwood.

Quite a day. Two Glasgow bucket list musts ticked off in a couple of hours: Crabshakk restaurant and Barrowland Ballroom. A reward – after two intense days of butcher awards judging – of a feast of fresh seafood in still hip Finnieston, then Father John Misty in full sardonic flow at the legendary Gallowgate venue. For all this I had the blessing earlier in the day of Salvador Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross, as breathtaking as ever on its astral perch in the Kelvingrove Museum.

It’s the kind of fervent embrace I’ve come to expect from that great sandstone city on the Clyde. On previous visits I’ve rigorously researched Glasgow’s thriving food and drink scene or thrown myself into its rich musical heritage. Yet there were always gaps to be filled. 

Thanks to the judging invitation from the Q Guild (from bacon to rib-eye via sausages, pies and stir-fries  it was a lot of fun) and a handy Merchant City base in the Moxy Hotel I had time to explore. Extra time thanks to rail strikes extending my stay.

King Tut’s, St Lukes, Oran Mor – I’d done them all on that specifically music trip but I’d only stared across at the Barrowland from The Gate cocktail bar opposite. In the absence of a gig that night, the famous Technicolor lights were out. The raucous Father John Misty concert more than made up (even if lonesome me was adopted by the Glaswegian equivalent of Beavis and Butt-Head bellowing out the lyrics they knew by heart).

Dining solo at Crabshakk was an altogether more sedate affair. Even if I probably needed a large bib as I messily ripped into a whole crab at the counter. Contender for most beautiful fish dish of the year so far followed – a tranche of halibut in a tomato miso with a draping of monksbeard.

This brilliant ‘high tea’ made up for a less convincing dining experience the previous evening (in company). Tucked into the Cathedral Hotel, Modern Italian Celetano’s came with a glowing recommendation from The Guardian’s Grace Dent but, fennel salami and a couple of accomplished pasta dishes aside, it didn’t deliver the promised bliss.

It is handy though for a mooch around the spooky Necropolis http://www.glasgownecropolis.org, which looks down on a cityscape packed with steeples and towers. This 19th century burial ground, inspired by Paris’s Pere Lachaise, lies on a ridge close to the city’s pre-industrial centre, rubbing shoulders with the magnificent Gothic Cathedral. For 700 years St Mungo’s tomb has drawn pilgrims there.

The Necropolis boasts 3,500 monuments, commemorating the city’s grandees. More than 50,000 other souls keep therm company from their unmarked graves. The cemetery upkeep is an ongoing challenge, my guide from the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, told  me as we stood beneath the hulking monument to religious reformer John Knox (“he is Edinburgh, nothing to do with us really.”). 

Glasgow-based journalist Peter Ross in his great celebration of Britain’s graveyards, A Tomb With a View (Headline, £20), says the Knox statue “functions as a sort of Statute of llliberty, representing all that is stern and joyless and unbending about Scotland”.

His own favourite Glasgow cemetery is the gentler Cathcart on the Southside; for Gothic ghoulish, though, head for the Southern Necropolis, across the Clyde from Glasgow Green. Here the eerie marble figure known as The White Lady, marking the grave of two women killed by a tram in 1933, is said to turn its head to gaze at passers-by. It’s also the alleged haunt  of the Gorbals Vampire with its iron teeth and lust for the blood of local lads.

Such urban folklore is enough to make you turn to drink. Wee drams aside, in this city that’s traditionally been courtesy of Tennent, whose mass market lager brewery looms to the south of the Knox Necropolis. As a family business it predated the boneyard by centuries and there were once genuine fears the arrival of corpses would contaminate its spring water supply.

Tennent’s commitment to the present is undoubtedly its collab with Alloa indie brewers Williams Bros – Drygate, a converted box factory on its estate, now home to a US-style craft brewery tap. The Drygate labels are designed by students from the Glasgow School of Art.

Which leads us neatly to the on-going saga of the iconic Art School building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This was extensively damaged when a blaze broke out late in the summer of 2018 as it neared the end of a £35 million restoration project following a previous fire in May 2014. The scaffolds and tarpaulins remain in place. It will be years yet before the current rescue project is finished.

Born in 1868, policeman’s son Mackintosh had none of the advantages of his architect contemporaries, just more talent. To get a taste of the whole Art Nouveau-dabbling coterie sign up for one of the Mackintosh’s Glasgow Walking Tours or download as self-guided leaflet.They all offer an illuminating introduction to the city as a whole, particularly the Victorian and Edwardian era where the vast wealth raised through shipbuilding and the sugar and tobacco trade was lavished on elaborate architecture.

I like the fact that Mackintosh designed both the main newspaper offices – the Daily Record, all glazed brick down a dark lane (home to vegan cafe and gig venue Stereo) and the Glasgow Herald building, deftly transformed into the panoramic Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture and Design (alas still closed post-pandemic).

My favourite building on our tour had to be James Salmon Junior’s Gaudiesque 1902 St Vincent Street Chambers, nicknamed the ‘Hat Rack’. Small in stature, Salmon was nicknamed the ‘Wee Troot’. A recent bridge over the Clyde has been dubbed the ‘Squinty Bridge’. Yes, the city’s dry humour takes no prisoners.

So much architecture but Glasgow has a wealth of green spaces, too. I love Kelvingrove Park and the shady promenade along the River Kelvin, taking in Kelvingrove Museum. This fantastical Spanish Baroque pile, spring cleaned inside and out two decades ago, houses an eclectic collection of art and objects that takes your breath away – from Rembrandts, Van Goghs and Salvador Dali’s vertiginous Christ of St John of the Cross to armour collections, a stuffed elephant and a dangling Spitfire. It’s a great place to acquaint yourself with Mackintosh’s influence and the contemporaneous Glasgow Boys art movement.

The interior of the Glasgow house where Mackintosh lived with his wife and artistic collaborator Margaret Macdonald has been reassembled up the hill within the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, featuring a definitive collection of his austerely beautiful furniture. From here it’s a 10 minute walk to Byres Street and the West End – the 

Bohemian buzz of which would surely have delighted the dandy in Mackintosh.

Much quieter, in the southern approaches of the city, is another green oasis voted Europe’s best park in 2008, Pollok Country Park, home to elegant Pollok House, great walks and the remarkable Burrell Collection Museum – a Mackintosh-free zone.

It is a custom-built modern repository for more than 9,000 objects bought by Sir William Burrell, cannily using wealth from the family shipping business. Chinese, Muslim, Medieval and Gothic treasures rub shoulders with Impressionist masterworks. Unlike the Kelvingrove, it feels uncluttered, displaying at any one time only 20 per cent of the collection. The landmark building reopened last spring after four years shut for water damage repairs.

t is too far out to feature on Glasgow’s official hop on hop off (with commentary) City Sightseeing Tour. This double decker’s circular route takes in the East and West Ends as well as the revitalised banks of the Clyde with its award-winning, Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum. Offering an even more fascinating insight into the city’s past is the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green in the East End. This sandstone working class cultural centre charts everything from tenement poverty to entertainment diversions. Attached to it is the elegant Victorian glasshouse of the Winter Garden. 

Nearby you’ll find the Templeton Carpet Factory, modelled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and, of course, The Barrowland Ballroom. Take them both in on a walk up to Merchant City, once home to mansions and markets and now reinvigorated as a creative hub after decades of decay, good for bars and people watching. 

It’s after here you start to recognise the grid system Victorian expansion built along. Look down long straight streets and you’ll inevitably see church towers or steeples framed at the end. It all feels uncannily American. Indeed when the cityscape turns hilly around Blythswood Square it might almost be San Francisco. Not quite sure John Knox would have approved.

Fleeting tips on food and drink in Glasgow

Crabshakk, as you already know. The Finnieston original has spawned a sibling up at the Botanical Gardens. Other fish restaurants of note – the veteran bistro Gamba on West George Street and the Finnieston Bar and Restaurant. Nearby Gannet, paragon of Scottish sourcing, is probably the pick of the Argyle Street eateries.

Pubs? My fave remains The State Bar, off Sauchiehall Street, with its glorious Victorian interior, fine cask ales and Glasgow’s longest-running blues jam. In the Merchant City, a short stroll from the Moxy Hotel, is the laid-back Babbity Bowster, named after an old Scottish wedding dance and offering a countrified beer garden at odds with its urban surroundings. Current craft beer mecca is down on Southside – Koelschip Yard with 14 cutting edge keg lines.

It’s that time of year again and as I prepare to barbecue a big bundle of calçots in my rather blustery backyard the whole celebration is tinged with sadness. Because these long thin Catalan onions that resemble a leek (but aren’t related) will forever be associated with Lunya in the Barton Arcade and Iberica in Spinningfields. Both these now departed Hispanic standard bearers in Manchester hosted jolly, messy events around that quirky veg’s brief season. Bibs were essential as the charred objects of our desire, fresh from the coals, were dipped in a pungent Romesco-style sauce and accompanying wine was poured from a great height from needle-nosed porróns. 

Calçots’ journey from plot to plate is far more epic than your supermarket spring onion’s. The Catalans plant them in early autumn, traditionally as the moon is waning, then a few weeks later, when the shoots have pushed up, transplanting them. The following summer they are harvested and stored in a dry place to germinate again, then in August/September they are trimmed and replanted in trenches. 

Now the fun starts. Let Colman Andrews, author of the still definitive Catalan Cuisine (1997) take up the story:

“As they begin to sprout once more earth is packed around the new growth to blanch it (as done with chicory and celery) – and this is how calçots got their name, from the verb C, to put on boots or shoes. (The Catalan word for shoe, in fact, is the almost identical calçat. Compare the Italian word calzone, ‘big stocking’, meaning a stocking-shaped turnover pizza).

“By the time the calçots – as many as 12 or 13 of them from each large onion,  seven or eight from each smaller one – are harvested in January and the ensuing few months, they have become not only much larger but much milder and sweeter. And because of their ‘shoes’ of soil, at least half their length is white.”

What was once a seaside speciality around Tarragona province, is now commonplace across Spain, as ubiquitous as paella or churros. A colleague noticed Manchester’s acclaimed 10 Tib Lane is currently serving leeks with romesco, saving on the air miles for the real thing.

In truth the annual La Calçotada wasn’t remotely on mind until a visit to Liverpool this week for the opening of Daniel Heffy’s impressive new restaurant NORD. En route I happened upon the original Lunya restaurant/bar/deli, where founders Peter and Elaine Kinsella retrenched after their Manc exit. And there for sale was a stack of calçots, in all their earthy prime, which I snapped up on impulse, The Kinsellas will be hosting their own Calçotada this Sunday afternoon (March 26) at Lunyalita at Albert Dock, with not just calçots smoking on the grill but also a selection of grilled meatsand yes, the cava will flow. For afters, crema catalana, naturally. My more modest party at the same time may feature fino sherry en rama, my preferred tipple, decidedly un-Catalan. but hey  I will, of course, have make my own take on Romesco (recipe below).

I’ll endeavour to char the calçots almost black, wrap them in newspaper as tradition demands.To be topical, I used Times columnist Matthew Parris’ caustic consignment of Boris Johnson to history’s scrap heap. Leave them to steam for 20 minutes, then gingerly peel open the sweet insides from their feathery casing. Serve them simply with lashings of romesco and garlicky tomato bread. The Catalans serve them in long terracotta roofing tiles to keep them warm, but it’s not my priority, obviously.



200g piquillo peppers

6 garlic cloves, unskinned, raosted for 20 minutes

6 plum tomatoes, roasted

100ml sherry vinegar

 250ml olive oil

1tsp smoked paprika

50g breadcrumbs

150g blanched almonds

juice of ½ lemon 


Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan for 3-4 mins until starting to turn golden and smelling toasted. Shake the pan often to turn them. Tip out and leave to cool, then grind. Roast the tomatoes in the oven until soft and sticky
Drain the red peppers and tip into a food processor with the almonds, breadcrumbs, tomato, lemon, garlic, vinegar and smoked paprika, then blitz to a chunky mixture.
With the motor still on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to make a coarse sauce. Season well.

Meat is Murder, Morrissey’s prescient plant-based message, remains a strident soundtrack to veganism, in harmony now with the methane-blamers in the battle against global warming. And yet to yoke mass-produced, factory-farmed supermarket protein with enlightened sustainable animal husbandry yielding remarkable, healthy produce is a travesty.

Read my piece on the farming practices supplying Higher Ground, in the running to be Manchester’s restaurant standard bearer, then eat there to see what all the fuss is about. At the moment it is just acorn-fed free range pork (I hugely recommend the pig’s head terrine) on the menu. from Jane’s Farm in Cheshire but soon its grass-fed beef will feature too, not a scrap of the animal wasted. Higher Ground is sharing the first Dexter cross carcass with fellow newcomer Climat.

They are not alone in championing beef. These days few retired milkers can look forward  to a long retirement, just a few years’ extra grazing to mature their flesh for the grill or pot. At the recent launch of Stock Market Grill – formerly Tom Kerridge’s Bull & Bear –in the Stock Exchange Hotel head chef Joshua Reed-Cooper served us ex-dairy Friesian rib eye steak (substantial, so £55).

Excellent as that rib-eye was, it was trumped at another hotel dining room I’d almost written off after the departure of exec head chef Iain Thomas,who had launched it to acclaim. His permanent replacement at The Alan is James Hulme, as meat savvy as any chef around. When he ran his own restaurant, The Moor, in Heaton Moor he struck up a working relationship with a farm near Buxton, he told us across the chef’s counter.

“I used to take three ewes at a time, drive them to the abattoir. I didn’t kill them myself but I think you should be able to kill stuff if you want to eat it. Many chefs, even at top places, have no idea which part of a cow different cuts come from.” 

With such knowledge he embraces the farm to fork ethos, extracting the maximum use of a beast. It took half an hour to prepare our 800g of retired dairy cow, James’s sous chef treating it first to a dose of searing flames. In all its final crimson glory it’s a wonderful mouthful with enough left over for three days of doggie bags for Captain Smidge the chihuahua. £85 the cost, but there’s ample and beyond.

Our little dog was never going to be brought back any of the Pomme Anna style confit beef fat chips – glistening gold  slabs of carb crisped in fat from the animal’s beef cap, which also fuels the best beef tartare in the city, lubricated by whipped bone marrow. It’s made distinctive by chopped gherkins and cured egg yolk plus breadcrumbs toasted with beef fat. What else? 

The vegan option is never paramount with this chef who honed his talents working for Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Marco Pierre White, Tom Aikens and our own Aiden Byrne when launching 20 Stories. Still his plant-based offering is better than most. We enjoyed poached and roasted salsify with apple and red wine but, seasonality decreed that was about to depart the menu, its replacement another off the mainstream radar veg, kohlrabi. And, of course, with that fine dining cv, he can’t resist undermining any vegan potential with a dash of life-enhancing butter. Grilled hen of the woods with ancient grains and whey butter is definitely a dish de nos jours.

But easily our favourite among the small plates was again meat-led. My favourite lamb breast dish is the classic French version, Sainte-Menehould. Slow-braised, then strips of it baked with a mustard and breadcrumb coating. This is simpler, the product of pressing with the addition of that most un-Gallic of tracklements – kimchi. The most delicate of kimchis turned into a ketchup. 

There’s an improved wine list arriving at The Alan and we suspect this chef will not hesitate to up his menu game, too. For the moment it’s good to see one of the city’s coolest venues consolidating its immediate impact despite big changes.

So many Manchester homages to exposed brick are just plain grubby but this wide open space of muted pastels and cute design quirks really sings. With  food to match from James Hulme. Grab a seat at the counter and watch an unsung master at work.

The Alan, 18 Princess Street, Manchester M1 4LG. 01612368999.

What have Panzanella, Pancotto, Ribollita and Bolton Brewis all got in common? And why are they trumped by the ultimate Wet Nellie – described by Parkers Arms chef Stosie Madi as part of the DNA of the UK’s No.1 gastropub? The answer is stale bread.

Frugality made delish by using your loaf, not binning it. Well, maybe not in the case of the Brewis. which I first encountered when celebrating the 25th anniversary of Rhubarb and Black Pudding, Matthew Fort’s year in the life of Paul, Heathcote’s Longridge restaurant. Like the eponymous black pudding, tripe or Eccles cakes, Brewis might, in Fort’s words, be proof of ‘Lancashire remaining true to its own regionality’, but it’s a desperate culinary remedy in its most basic form – hot water pored over hard bread scraps to make a mush come soup, seasoned with salt and pepper or whatever is to hand. 

The French for gruel is brouet. So it’s not just a Lancashire thing. It crops up in that 1869 tale of Devon derring do, Lorna Doone. The author, RD Blackmore says of one numpty character “She can’t stir a pot of brewis.” Cross the Atlantic to Newfoundland and you’ll find a ‘deluxe version’ – Fish and Brewis with Scruncheons, combining hard tack and salt cod.

All of which is not a far remove from Italy’s Cucina Povera, which lifts making do on the poverty line to a different level, celebrating the rustic virtues of enhancing plain wheaten staples with herbs, foraged weeds, unmentionable meat parts and the like. The perception is the peasants of the Mezzogiorno and the Abruzzo liveD their lives in one long Dolmio ad. Our tables never recovered from the Industrial Revolution.

As it happens, I’m about to spend a few days among the Tuscan vineyards, where the diet may well be on the rich side. Yet, I’ll be looking out for Panzanella, a Tuscan and Umbrian chopped salad of soaked stale bread, onions and tomatoes, liberally doused with Extra Virgin or Pancotto, which has a variant in Campania utilising escarole or chicory with garlic and chilli. Tastier than either of these is Ribollita, a blend of Cavolo nero, red wine vinegar, cannellini beans, parmesan rind and carrot that strays into hearty territory. Closer to German Brotsuppe.

Guilt over leftovers is universal or should be and crumby ingenuity stretches beyond bread soup. Witness the aforementioned Wet Nellie, whose appeal extends from Liverpool into deepest Lancashire and finds its true haven at The Parkers Arms in The Trough of Bowland. Don’t dare to write it off as just a simple niece of Bread and Butter Pudding. in the hands of Stosie Madi and its true champion, business partner Kathy Smith, it’s a thing of beauty. Check out this video of its making.

So what makes up a Wet Nellie, perennial Parkers dessert fave? Let Stosie explain: “ We keep all left ofter sourdough, pastry, cakes etc using an electric mixer we make chunky crumbs. We then add our spice mix, ur own candied citrus mix, our own citrus syrup. Mix in lots of good candied cherries, dried currants and raisins. Now allow 48 hours before checking taste and texture. Add more syrup if dry; more crumbs if too wet. Fill cooked shortcrust tart cases and bake until golden. Serve with marmalade ice cream or maybe duck egg custard. It’s on the menu because it is a historic Lancs pudding.”

Beats Bewlis any day.

Don’t be a pet shop boy (or girl) if you’re planning on cooking with hay. That’s my advice and for decades I’ve been sourcing the finest sweet meadow hay for the pot. Scents of herbs and wild flowers to the fore. Not what you get from dusty, mousy dried grass in a packet from the pet store. And, beware, urban dwellers, straw (nutritionally worthless cereal stalks) won’t do at all. Fit only for rabbit hutch bedding.

Of course, I‘m lucky enough to have always had access to top quality hay thanks to a horse-mad family and stable connections. The aromas of a Lamb Leg roasting in the stuff wafted enticingly from the Aga as I lifted it out to let it rest before serving. Tip: scrupulously remove every hay wisp before slicing.

Ever wondered about the origins of ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’? It’s all about judging the age of a nag by its teeth. Culinary hay, in contrast is the gift that keeps on giving. From my leftover batch I whistled up Hay ice Cream, using Christoffer Hruskova’s fool-proof recipe (see below). The London-based baker is from Denmark – the Scandinavians have a particular affinity for hay-based cuisine, it seems. Back in the eight century the Vikings employed dried grass and leaves from birch trees to smoke and preserve meat and fish. In ancient Ireland, early settlers wrapped meats like a wild game in hay or straw before cooking in the ‘Fulacht Fiadh’, a cooking pit in use since the Bronze Age.

Plus ca change. Over a decade ago when Rene Redzepi’s NOMA restaurant first brought foodies flocking to Copenhagen hay was one of the less challenging staples. NOMA’s menu has offered a butter and hay parfait, hay cream with lingonberries, celeriac rubbed in hay ash before being baked in a salt crust pastry and, the pick, a dish of Jerusalem artichokes and truffles drizzled with toasted hay oil.

All this may have novelty value, but hay has recurrently been ‘rediscovered’ as a cooking mode over the centuries. In Historic Heston Blumenthal (2013) the gastronomic egghead  reveals the secrets of hay smoking. He wrote: “In the early days at The Fat Duck I use to wet hay, set light to it, then pack the charred remains around a leg of lamb before putting it in a salt crust and baking it, which added a wonderful farmyard flavour to the meat. Later I did something similar with calves’ sweetbreads and served them with chicken roasting juices and cockles.”

Later he progressed to hay smoking fish, placing halibut in a squirrel cage trap over a barbecue, dramatic flames ensuing yet producing a more delicate smokiness than a long slow process. Long-time Blumenthal acolyte Ashley Palmer Watts eventually became chef director at Dinner by HB at London’s Mandarin Oriental, where those historic dishes were showcased. Industry bible Staff Canteen attributed Hay-Smoked Mackerel, Lemon Salad and Gentleman’s Relish to him. The recipe is definitely on my bucket list.

Leaving culinary bliss aside, there is a sustainable advantage to cooking with a ‘hay box’. Conserving the heat you initially put into the pot and subsequent slow cooking is environmentally sound. Especially in those parts of the world where wood is scarce. Nearer home, hay box use was recommended to UK households as part of World War II rationing. My employment of hay today is purely sensuous. Here are recipes for Lamb Roasted in Hay and Hay Ice Cream.



  • 1kg lamb roasting joint
  • A few handfuls of hay
  • 125g butter, softened
  • A few sprigs rosemary, chopped (use thyme or a mixture of both if you wish, or try lavender)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 190°C/Gas 5. Soak the hay in water for about 15 minutes, then drain. In a bowl mix the butter, chopped herbs and garlic. Line a roasting tin large enough to take your meat joint with a layer of hay about 5cm thick. Place your lamb on the hay, then smear the lamb all over with the butter mixture. Season.

Cover the lamb with the rest of the hay. Then either cover with a lid if you have one for the tin or make one with a double layer of foil. Seal the foil all around the tin. Make sure there are no loose bits of hay emerging from the tin – it all needs to be contained so it does not smoulder or catch fire when cooking.

Roast in the oven for 30 minutes per 500g for a medium cooked roast (adjust for slightly pinker lamb if preferred). Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Take off the lid, remove the lamb and carve. Use the juices from the pan for the gravy



  • 50g fresh hay
  • 250ml double cream
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 90g of caster sugar
  • 6 egg yolks


To start the infusion, mix the cream, milk and sugar in a medium sized pan. Bring the liquid to the boil so that the sugar dissolves. Stir the hot mixture in with the 6 egg yolks in a bowl to create a custard. Add the hay and leave aside for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and place it back on the stove over a medium to high heat. Place a thermometer in the pan and bring the liquid slowly up to 76°C. Once the temperature has been reached, remove from the heat and allow the liquid to cool down in a bowl over ice. Churn in an ice cream maker until set and serve.