I’ve lost count of the number of Manchester Food and Drink Awards gala dinners I’ve attended, but this celebration of the region’s hospitality industry remains joyously upbeat despite the perils that still threaten to torpedo so many independent operators.

The Awards themselves had been pushed back from their usual October slot when the mothership Festival foundered. Hopefully, it will return in 2024. Meanwhile these 2023 Awards flew the flag in a fresh venue that really worked – New Century Hall – and opened with a defiant political edge. 

In person on stage Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. En route to Depeche Mode at the nearby Arena, he rallied the 350 hospitality troops gathered for the occasion. On film Sacha Lord, his night-time economy adviser (I reserve ‘czar’  for Russian potentates), and a clutch of North West chefs demanded the Government slash VAT on the industry back down to 10 per cent. Lord kicks off the challenging This is an Emergency video chillingly: “I know people staring at the cliff edge.”

After the dinner sourced from traders in the New Century Kitchen, down to the main business of the night. The 18 award winners announced reflected the city’s current high global profile. 

Last week the The Edinburgh Castle in Ancoats debuted in 24th place in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs; now its kitchen dynamo Shaun Moffat followed up by scooping Chef of the Year. A huge double also for Higher Ground. On the same day they won a Michelin Bib Gourmand they were named MFDF Newcomer of the Year. They are also in the frame for the national Best New Restaurant at the Good Food Guide Awards 2024. I was also delighted that Ancoats small plates and natural wine stalwart Erst finally won Best Restaurant.

Across the evening there was strong recognition for Manchester’s unrivalled craft beer scene. Track won best independent drinks producer, the Marble Arch best beer bar/pub, Bundobust best plant-based offering for the Gujarati-inspired small plates that accompany the beers it brews in town and James Campbell received the Outstanding Achievement Award for two decades as the driving force behind cutting edge breweries Marble, Cloudwater and, currently, Sureshot. 

Sign of the difficult times, one of the nominees for best drinks producer, Squawk Brewery, has just been forced to close. So high jinks celebrating an amazing food and drink scene tinged with sadness at the steady drip of closures. Time to make a stand on that crucial VAT drop issue. Watch the Sacha Lord film, also featuring the likes of Simon Wood, Michael Clay, Mary Ellen McTague and and emotional Simon Rimmer, who was forced to close his flaship restaurant Greens recently, and sign the associated petition.

All the fantastic winners at Manchester Food and Drink Awards 2023

Here is this year’s awards list in full (for addresses visit this link)…

Restaurant of the Year – Erst

Shortlisted: Higher Ground, Climat, Another Hand, 10 Tib Lane

OSMA, The Spärrows. mana, Erst.202

Chef of the Year – Shaun Moffat (Edinburgh Castle)

Shortlisted: Joseph Otway (Higher Ground), Danielle Heron (OSMA), Luke Richardson (Climat), Julian Pizer (Another Hand), Patrick Withington (Erst), Seri Nam (Flawd Wine), Mike Shaw (MUSU), Shaun Moffat (Edinburgh Castle)

Newcomer of the Year – Higher Ground

Shortlisted: Climat, Restaurant Örme, Fold Bistro & Bottle Shop, The Jane Eyre Chorlton, Madre, New Century Kitchen, Stretford Canteen, Higher Ground

Plant-based Offering of the Year– Bundobust

Shortlisted: Lily’s Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, Bahn Ví, The Walled Gardens, Maray, Speak in Code, Flawd Wine, The Mekong Cat, Bundobust.

Takeaway of the Year – Burgerism

Ad Maoira, Unagi Street Food & Sushi, Ciaooo Garlic Bread, Fat Pat’s, Wright’s Fish and Chips. Maida Grill House, Al Madina, Burgerism.

Independent Drinks Producer of the Year – Track

Shortlisted: Sureshot Brewing, Stockport Gin, Cloudwater Brew Co, Tarsier Spirit, Pod Pea Vodka, Manchester Union Brewery, Squawk Brewing Co, Track.

Independent Food Producer of the Year – Pollen Bakery

Shortlisted: Cotton Field Wharf, Great North Pie Co, La Chouquette, Gooey, Yellowhammer, The Manchester Smoke House, The Flat Baker, Companio Bakery, Pollen.

Foodie Neighbourhood of the Year – Stockport

Shortlisted: Levenshulme, Altrincham, Urmston, Prestwich, Monton, Sale, Stretford, Stockport.

Coffee Shop of the Year – Grapefruit Coffee

Shortlisted: Cafe Sanjuan, Another Heart to Feed, Idle Hands, Bold Street Coffee,  Smoak, Ancoats Coffee Co, Siop Shop, Grapefruit.

Food Trader of the Year – Fat Pat’s

Shortlisted: Baratxuri, Chaat Cart, Triple B, Tawny Stores, Yellowhammer, Little Sri Lankan, Pico’s Tacos, Oh Mei Dumplings, Fat Pat’s.

Affordable Eats Venue of the Year – Ornella’s Kitchen

Shortlisted: Nila’s Burmese Kitchen, Great North Pie Co, Cafe Sanjuan, Noodle Alley, Tokyo Ramen, Lily’s Deli, House of Habesha, Ornella’s Kitchen.

Food and Drink Retailer of the Year – Cork of the North

Shortlisted: Ad Hoc Wines, Out of the Blue Fishmongers, Littlewoods Butchers, Wandering Palate, New Market Dairy, Petit Paris Deli, La Chouquette.

Pop up or Project of the Year – Platt Fields Market Garden

Shortlisted:  Our Place, Tawny Stores at Yellowhammer, SAMPA, Little Sri Lankan, Suppher, Fare Share, Micky’s, Platt Fields Market Garden

Pub or Beer Bar of the Year – The Marble Arch

Shortlisted: Track Brewery Taproom, The City Arms, Runaway Brewery Taproom, Fox & Pine, Reddish Ale, Station Hop, Heaton Hops, The Marble Arch.

Bar of the Year – Schofield’s Bar

Shortlisted: The Jane Eyre Ancoats, Blinker, Red Light, Sterling Bar, Hawksmoor, 10 Tib Lane, Flawd Wine, Schofield’s Bar.

Neighbourhood Venue of the Year – Stretford Canteen

Shortlisted: Restaurant Örme, OSMA, Ornella’s Kitchen, The Oystercatcher, Yellowhammer, Fold Bistro & Bottle Shop, The Jane Eyre Chorlton, Stretford Canteen.

Great Service Award – Hawksmoor

Shortlisted: Higher Ground, Schofield’s Bar, Where The Light Gets In, Climat, Wood Manchester, Sterling Bar, Tast Catala, Hawksmoor.

The Howard and Ruth Award for Outstanding Achievement – James Campbell

Recognising people who have contributed something outstanding to the hospitality industry in Greater Manchester.

Edible thistles? What a faff. I’m happy to be served globe artichokes in a restaurant. Especially when given the Carciofi alla Romana treatment, a spring speciality of the Roman capital, where they are stuffed with a mixture of garlic, parsley and mint, then braised in olive oil and white wine. Delightful. especially since all the fiddly preparation, especially choke removal, has been done by someone else. And I, with my negligible knife skills, have not nearly chopped a finger off. 

There is another thistle that’s not half the hassle, except with the sourcing. The Cardoon is quite a looker with Its thorny, silver-grey leaves and pompom-like purple blossoms, standing up to six feet tall. Alas, you won’t find this cousin of the artichoke any time soon on a supermarket veg counter or even from a specialist UK greengrocer. 

The cooked stalks may have been a treat on a plate for 17th century diarists such as Pepys and Evelyn (the latter a gardening expert who grew his own) but Cynara cardunculus has fallen from grace on these shores, compared with the Med, where the green lunghi variety still thrives. Italy’s Piemonte region is ‘cardone centrale’. Growers there cultivate the ‘Gobbi’ (Italian for hunchback), where the plant is bent over and covered in soil. thus protecting it from the light and creating a paler, tenderer stalk. Think forced rhubarb.The Italians dip them with other crudités in the addictive, garlicky sauce, bagna cauda. The heads are also gathered to make a vegetarian rennet for certain types of cheese.

In Britain the more accessible celery gradually took overt the cardoon’s mantle. Still in certain heritage gardens you may chance upon it in season (November-February), which happened to me at a certain Cheshire property I was a guest at. I took a sample home, sans thistle heads,  with the intention of testing their toothsome mettle in a cheesy gratin. Alas, the stalks (the part you eat, not the thistle as with artichokes) were at the end of their tether, so I chucked them.

The big plan now is to grow my own and I‘ve got the perfect source – Otter Farm in Devon. I‘m a devotee of its creator, Mark Diacono, once of River Cottage. He’s both a brilliant author (Sour and Spice are stand-outs; he’s currently publishing follow-up Abundance in instalments via his substack The Imperfect Umbrella) and a grower of rare and wonderful plants at his 17 acre farm. They sell the cardoon in seed or pot form; whatever, I’ve got a substantial wait while they swell in our raised beds.

What should I expect? Let me take the Otter Farm advice: “Cardoons look very similar to globe artichokes – they can get to at least 2m tall with their downy green-grey leaves and amazing flower heads. Both inner and outer stems are edible,  though oddly the inner are more bitter. Take a potato peeler to the ribs to remove stringy bits and blanch before using as the main ingredient to a gratin or as a crudité vegetable.

“Sow seed in March or April under cover and plant out after frosts have passed leaving 80cm (annual) and over 100cm (perennial) between. Then on a dry day in early autumn gather together the leaves and tie then up with string (including the stake if you have one) into a bundle. Then wrap a collar of card or thick newspaper around your cardoon bundle and leave it for around four weeks to blanch. 

“Lift plants as required from October. They’ll be happy like this until any hard frosts and will store in a cool place until December, if you do need to lift them all before the cold sets in. Tolerant of poor soils and grows well in shade, but happiest in full sun (the former is more likely at ours).”

Speaking of shade, or more specifically ‘chiaroscuro’, Caravaggio, arguably Rome’s greatest artistic son, paid his own homage by including cardoons in his Still Life with Flowers and Fruit. The veg is more centre stage in Still Life with Francolin by Spanish food still life specialist Juan Sanchez Cotan and The Prado’s Still Life with Cardoon, Francolin, Grapes and Irises by the virtually unknown Felipe Ramírez.

All these images are of cardoons au naturel, but cooked, what recipe shows this bitter veg off at its best? Step forward Jennifer McLaglan, who has penned the definitive account of “A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavour” – Bitter (Jacqui Small, £25). The Canadian-based author devotes an entire chapter to the cardoon in the ‘Surprisingly Bitter’ section (chocolate and tobacco star in ‘Dark, Forbidden and Very Bitter’).

She’s an advocate of its valuable health properties: “Like other bitter plants, thistles support the liver, gallbladder, spleen and kIdneys, and aid digestion. They contain good amounts of folic acid and  minerals, notably copper, manganese, magnesium and iron.”

The taste, she describes as having, through the bitterness, “an earthy, meatiness and mild artichoke-and-mushroominess that will seduce you.” 

This, I‘m sure is shown to great effect in creamy gratins where the blanched stalks are enhanced by ample amounts of cheese. As with celery, whose leaves are also surprisingly bitter, the outer, more fibrous cardoon stalks will in tandem with dried porcini and garlic, make a fine, if rather beige, soup. Hardcore fans will lap it up in bitter leaf salads or braised greens.

I’ll get back to you on all this when I’ve sowed my own Cynara cardunculus seeds this spring and harvested them in late autumn.

Name your favourite pasta. If it’s spaghetti hoops I suggest you’re reading the wrong blog. For brothers Michael and Alex de Martiis it has to be rigatoni. That’s why they’ve invested in a state of the art extruding machine to create daily batches of this ‘pastasciutta’ (dry, a bronze die giving it a useful rough texture) to be sauced up and served at their back to basics new project called, naturally, Rigatoni’s.

That’s the rebranding for all four pasta-led eateries formerly known as Sud, which originated as Sugo in Altrincham back in 1915. Reviewing it then I was wowed by the sugo, just like Nonna used to make – a dense sauce of beef shin, pork shoulder and spicy Tuscan sausage that felt like it had been simmered for days, if not decades. It coated a substantial bowl of that ear-shaped pasta called orecchiette, fresca (ie fresh) as in the de Martiis family’s native Puglia.

Unfortunately, nonnas are thin on the ground in the pressured world of eating out Italian style 2024 and change is necessary.

At a launch for the new menu at Rigatoni’s Ancoats Michael defends their decision to concentrate on a single basic, if adaptable, pasta treated with simple fresh sauces. “The days are gone when we could a spare a member of the team to stir rich meat sauces for hours or roll out a variety of pasta shapes. Our starters too are simpler, yet no less delicious.”

On this first acquaintance i can’t see what all the dumbing down accusations on social media are about. A selection of focaccia toasts, topped with grated tomato, garlic and salt or black olive and caper spread splendidly partner a carafe of fruity house Barbera. Even better at a quid more (£6) is the whipped gorgonzola and honey topping.

But the pasta is the thing and my sharp topping of brown crab, vodka sauce, and tarragon at £12.50 is 50p less than that ragu of eight years ago. A FAZOOL! white beans, garlic, fresh chilli & parm is just £9.50 and a cacio e pepe take with lots of extra-virgin is a remarkable £7.50. Amatriciana and Puttanesca options cost a tad more.

Tasty food for straitened times; I get it. Only the Italophile foodie in me seeks something a little more adventurous. Which brings me to that divisive Roman rigatoni speciality you’ll never find in the UK, let alone Manchester – Con La Pajata.

Not for the squeamish – a classic quinto quarto dish

Just as I always associate rigatoni with that great Sicilian speciality Pasta alla Norma, so ‘when in Rome’ it’s essential with traditional rib-tickler Carbonara. But the Eternal City also offers a classic offal-based rigatoni sauce that was banned in 2001 in the wake of Mad Cow Disease and only allowed to be reinstated on menus in 2015.

You’ll mostly come across rigatoni con la pajata (rigatoni con la pagliata in Standard Italian) in the old school trattorie of the Testaccio (it even sounds like balls) district. Until 1975 this was home to the city’s main slaughterhouse and the nose-to-tail culture lives on. The Italians call it quinto quarto (the fifth quarter) cooking, ie using leftover bits such as oxtail, feet, tongue, testicles, intestines and tripe.

Pajata is the name for the intestines of an unweaned calf (one fed only on its mother’s milk, never grass). They are cleaned and skinned but left inside is the chyme – the pulpy acidic fluid consisting of gastric juices and partly digested food. Stay with me.

The intestine is cut in pieces 20–25 cm long, that are bound together with thread, forming rings. A long cooking progress, allied to the enzymes present coagulate it, forming a creamy, ricotta-like sauce.The rings can be simply grilled or stewed with tomato, aromatics, lardo and spices to make a classic sauce for rigatoni. Top with oodles of pecorino romano, per favore.

So out of reach, but maybe not. In Florence I was wary of trying lampredotto (the stewed fourth stomach of a cow in a bread roll) and loved it. Now I’m scanning the schedules for air tickets for Rome. Will the suckling veal soon be in season?

Rigatoni’s, 46 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF. Also in Altrincham, Sale and Exhibition Manchester.

The Rhubarb Triangle is calling. As images of the first vibrant pink shoots of the season filter onto social media I get the urge to head 30 miles east east to the forcing sheds of West Yorkshire. More specifically to the acclaimed early rhubarb fiefdom of one Robert Tomlinson. His Pudsey farm is arguably an outlier of the Triangle, which purists confine to a nine square mile area bounded by Morley, Rothwell and Wakefield, but chefs and foodies flock to order from ‘Rhubarb Robert’. The product is that good.

Alas, my M62 trek is in vain. Early days for the harvesting by candlelight that is de rigueur in the sheds and the few bundles emerging have been snapped up in the farm shop before my arrival. “Next week we’ll have lots, luv.” The season lasts until March.

I console myself five minutes up the road with a visit to the Fulneck Moravian Settlement. This is a planned village built in 1743 by Protestant Brethren from Bohemia whose denomination pre-dated the Reformation by 60 years and later influenced John Wesley. I followed the ‘Meditation Walk’ around the buildings of the still active community and pondered the ghosts of its past – actress Dame Diana Rigg, who boarded at (and hated) Fulneck School and, from the village, Sir Leonard Hutton (364 not out still the highest Test innings by an England cricketer).

A legend in a different sphere is Kaushy Patel, whose family restaurant Prashad, serving Gujarati vegetarian food in unglamorous Drighlington, is handily placed on my homeward journey back down the A58. This converted pub, now with    son Bobby and his wife Minal at the helm, holds two AA stars, a Michelin Bib Gourmand, came second in the 2010 Channel 4 cook-off for Ramsay’s Best Restaurant and was more recently visited by Gordon’s fellow telly perennials, The Hairy Bikers.

A dish chef Minal served up to Ramsay in the semi-final remains on the menu. It transferred with the restaurant in 2012 when it moved from Bradford and showcases a green vegetable you won’t find in common or garden Indian restaurants.

Step forward the colocasia plant, also known as elephant-ear leaves, taro or cocoyam. As a tuber it is edible but the leaves are the favourite in the Patels’ native Gujarat state in India. It was from there that Kaushy moved with husband Mohan in the Sixties, setting up a deli that later became a hugely popular eaterie. 

In her debut cookbook, Prashad: Indian Vegetarian Cooking (Salt Yard, £25) Kaushy offers genuinely authentic recipes. I’ve used it a lot, but never been able to source the colocasia to make the two Patra dishes featured. Apparently you can buy it online and Indian-born US scientist/cook Nik Sharma, in his wonderful new book Veg-Table (Chronicle, £26), substitutes collard greens. Chard might do. Colocasia’s green arrowhead shaped leaves can grow up to 150cm long (above left), but the smaller leaves (10cmx15cm) are what you need for cooking, Steaming an stuffing is the way to go.

And they are good for you – containing dietary fibre, potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, magnesium, and folate. So how could I resist ordering a warm starter of Bafela Patra (£9.20)? So as not to scare off the uninitiated, it is described on the menu as ‘star anise and jaggery pasted chard parcels’. It arrived on a flourish of beetroot pure and topped with coconut shards, yet it looks not immediately appealing, like a portioned out olive green stick of rock. Yet it turns out to be utterly delicious, with a deep earthiness… and substantial. (see the recipe below from the excellent Prashad website).

For my main I’ve greedily ordered the Maharani Thali, giving this solo diner a rundown of a range of dishes on the one platter. At £27.50, with rice, rotis and raita all part of the package, it could easily be a sharer. Stand out components? Choli (chick peas with cinnamon and star anise), paneer masala with fenugreek and onion/tomato base, chatta palkya (cinnamon and bay leaf infused spinach and mushrooms) and a gloriously creamy shrikand for pud. All washed down with a Kernel Porter from a beer list curated by Bobby’s brother Mayur, who co-owns Bundobust.

There is Cobra on tap for curry house traditionalists. They probably wouldn’t be the prime audience for the in-depth discussion of the Patra tradition in Sheetal and Rinkal’s Gujarati food blog Route2roots. It acknowledges that colocasia is a staple across the sub-continent but achieves its apogee in the Patra dishes of the Anavil Bhramins in one corner of Gujarat. 

All very eclectic. Suffice it to say colocasia grows abundantly in warm swampy areas across India, whereas rhubarb originates from the colder corners of Siberia. Both find a home in the kitchens of Prashad. Worth a trip back soon for a forced rhubarb lassi or pickle. Did I mention no-one does chutneys and pickles better than the Patels. I can still taste the basil and green tomato one one with my pappadom nibbles.

Bafela Patra recipe (from the Prashad website)


To create the masala, you will need:

8 medium colocasia leaves

2-4 fresh green chillies (trimmed but not de-seeded)

2-4 cloves of garlic

3cm piece of root ginger (peeled and roughly chopped)

1 pinch of salt

To create the paste, you will need:

50g dried tamarind (from a block)

150ml boiling water

200g chickpea flour

50 chapatti flour

50g rice flour

1½tsp salt

40g jaggery, finely chopped (or soft brown sugar))

1½tsp carom seeds

1½tsp turmeric

2-4tsp ground coriander

1tbsp garam masala

5tsp sesame seeds (4tsp will be used as garnish)

60ml sunflower oil

200ml warm water


Wash your patra leaves and place them vein-side up on a chopping board. Using a small knife, carefully slice off the thick central vein.

Crush your chillies, garlic and ginger together with a pinch of salt with a pestle and mortar (or in a blender) to make a fine masala paste.

Soak the dried tamarind in boiling water for five minutes, then pulp with your fingers and a sieve, draining the tamarind water into a small bowl. Squeeze the pulp to get as much flavour as possible!

Sieve your flours together and mix in your masala paste, salt, jaggery, carom seeds, spices, one teaspoon of sesame seeds and your oil. Mix well to make sure all the masala is worked in.

Pour your tamarind water and warm water into the mixture and mix to form a sticky but workable paste, before leaving the mixture to rest for 10 minutes.

Take one of your larger patra leaves and place it vein-side facing up on a chopping board or your work surface, leaf tip furthest from you. Gently spread the leaf with enough paste to cover with a 5mm layer.

Take a second leaf and lay it on top of the first, again vein-side up. Spread the surface of the new leaf with paste.

Carefully lift the sides of the leaf stack and fold about 4cm in towards the centre, keeping the sides straight.

Spread a layer of paste over the leaf sections that you have just folded in (the new top surface). Then gently lift the closest end of the Patra leaf and fold about 4cm onto itself, then fold again and continue to fold away from you until you reach the tip.

Repeat the pasting, layering, folding and rolling three more times to use up the remaining six leaves, giving you four patra rolls.

To cook, put a flat-based heatproof bowl in a large, deep pan. Pour water into the pan until it reaches most of the way up the bowl, leaving about 2cm of the rim sticking about the water. Place your pan over a high heat.

Lightly oil a medium plate with a 2cm rim or lip that will fit in the pan (the rim will give you something to grip when you remove it from the steamer and help to prevent the patra falling into the water).

Put the four rolls, with the seam of the rolls facing down, on the oiled plate and gently place it on top of the bowl in the pan. Put the lid on the pan, wrap the rim of the lid with a cloth or tea towel (if it is a flat lid) and put weight on the lid to secure it.

Reduce the heat to medium and then leave to steam for 35 minutes, turning the rolls after 15 minutes. To check they are fully cooked, insert a sharp knife into the middle of a roll. The knife should come out clean.

Carefully remove the plate from the steamer and leave to cool for five minutes. Put the patra on a chopping board and use a sharp knife to slice each one into four even slices.

Prashad, 137 Whitehall Road, Drighlington, Bradford BD11 1AT. 0113  285 2037.

There is a thesis to be written on the key role railway hotels have played in the development of French cuisine. Sometimes at the exalted level of the 3-star La Maison Troisgros in Roanne. Legendary ‘nouvelle cuisine’ dishes such as ‘salmon in sorrel sauce’ were created by the brothers Jean and Pierre Troigros in the family hotel opposite the sleepy town station.
In 2017, under Pierre’s son Michel, it moved to a more luxurious site. Another culinary birthplace, though, will still be in situ to greet you three hours to the north in the Sologne. Get off the SNCF at even sleepier Lamotte-Beuvron and cross to the Hotel Tatin, home of the caramelised apple pastry that turned the dessert world upside down. You can also file the now ubiquitous Tarte Tatin under ‘dishes created by happy accident’.

The legend goes that the tart was fortuitously invented at the turn of the 20th century by chef Stéphanie Tatin (b 1838), who ran the hotel with her sister Caroline (b 1847). It was the opening Sunday of the hunting season and a traditional apple pie was expected by the hungry chasseurs. In the kitchen a flustered Stéphanie left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. In a bid to rescue the scrape (sic) she was in she opted to simply chuck the pastry base on top and stick it in the oven. 

Voilà, the succulent, caramelised apples soaked into the pastry, the lunch party loved it and it has never been off the menu since… here and in countless places around the world.

A major boost for it originally was its adoption by Maxim’s on the Rue Royale – one of the great Parisian celeb restaurants of the Belle Époque and beyond. Recently restored to its previous glory, it charges 18 euros for its tarte tatin (compared with 10 at the humbler Hotel Tatin). On a frugal pre-Christmas visit to the French capital I never got to eat it there, but I did BAKE MY OWN at another Parisian institution, the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, a 15 minute walk away.

The Galeries were in full Dream Before Christmas mode, from an awesome twinkling tree soaring into the department store’s dome and animated window displays from fashion designer Charles de Vilmorin showcasing his “epic story of the little girl and the magic paintbrush who travel to an imaginary land.”

I went one step further, and checked into the Ferrandi’s Kitchen cookery school on the third floor of the Lafayette Maison and Gourmet Store. At the end of my own rainbow a pot of goldenly caramelised apples, no less. There to guide me into not burning the fruit or rolling out the wrong texture of pastry was chef/tutor Lucie Lafontaine.

We were an eight-strong group, so, if necessary I could hide among teamwork. Still, I had made tatins before at home, using apples, plums, quinces and pears, and, less successfully rhubarb and gooseberry, which turned to mush. Pineapple, though, was a success. An apple that holds its shape during caramelisation, such as a Cox, is best. Lucie introduced to us a rival French one that was equally perfect. I‘ve seen instances in restaurants of savoury tarte tatins, but that seems just wrong. As does using puff pastry. 

At the end of our two and a half hour stint all our efforts tasted like the real thing. We had well earned our signed certificate, chef’s toque and goodie bag and got to keep our posh monogrammed apron. 130 euros is the cost of such a course, where savoury dishes are also on the changing roster on offer. Book here.

So, if you can’t make it to Paris or Lamotte-Beuvron, what’s the secret to a true tarte tatin?

Best leave it to the indefatigable Felicity Cloake in her ‘How to cook perfect…” series in The Guardian. Even her researches barely scratch the upside down surface with so many chefs tweaking their own versions.

This is her distillation, which I have employed since returning from Paris and it gets it spot on: “Toffee apples for grown-ups, the tarte tatin is all about the flavour of the fruit – crisp pastry, firm, juicy apples and that sweet, buttery caramel topping, holding the whole lot together. We may have the best apples, but the French really know what to do with them.”


7 medium apples: 4 Cox, 3 Granny Smith
200g white sugar
50g butter
175g ready-made shortcrust pastry 

225g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
120g cold butter
1 medium egg, beaten


Peel, halve and core the apples, then put in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours. Put the sugar into a 20cm heavy-based ovenproof frying pan along with 50ml water and leave to soak for a couple of minutes, then cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. Take off the heat and stir in the butter, and a pinch of salt, until well combined, then carefully arrange the apples in the pan, round-side down, bearing in mind the caramel will be very hot, and put back on the heat – you may need to cut some of the apples into smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. Cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

If making the pastry, sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs. Mix the egg with 2 tsp cold water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry (you’ll probably have some left over if you’ve made your own) to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan. Put back into the fridge to rest.

Put the pastry on top of the pan and tuck in the edges around the fruit. Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Allow to cool for five  minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then, very carefully, using oven gloves, invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche. Serves 6.

• To discover what else I got up to in Paris visit this link.