In the wake of this January’s Noto Peninsula earthquake, which resulted in 245 deaths, I purchased Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Food Artisans of Japan. Partly because all royalties were pledged to the relief fund (the chapter on Hokoriku: Noto Peninsula is the second largest in the book) and because I had been captivated by a previous book of hers on Japanese preservation traditions, a recent Christmas gift from my brother.

Domiciled in a 90 year-old farmhouse in rural Saitama with her organic farmer husband since 1988, this indomitable Californian has written a string of remarkable books charting Japan’s food culture and championing its artisanal ingredients. 

What struck me about Food Artisans was not just the stories of diehard producers sharing their secrets of true miso, shoyu, soba noodles, tofu, air-dried fish, umeboshi, sake, chef’s knives and much more, but the seven chefs she chose to profile. Their straddling of boundaries, sometimes applying modern techniques to age-old traditions, gave the book a contemporary resonance. The backdrop is one of ancient traditions diluted, short cuts taken even in the heartland of Japanese cuisine, yet their new wave artisanship gives hope.

Cut to a muggy May evening on Bridge Street, Manchester as we enter Musu, similar hope in our hearts. Walk 10 minutes in any direction and you’ll be served, for a substantial outlay, takes on sushi and sashimi only a small step up from the supermarket chill cabinet.

Musu is different. The name means “infinite possibilities”. Its kitchen has a kinship with those of Shinobu Namae or Takayoshi Shiozawa – Hachisu heroes not averse to French or Italian influences  from our global melting pot. 

Mike Shaw is definitely a less exotic sounding chef – you can take the lad out of Saddleworth etc – but he too has outstanding technique that has enable him to combine his classical European technique, forged under the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc and Richard Neat, with a new-found devotion to Japanese ‘haute cuisine’, inspired by the finest possible raw ingredients. I heartily recommend attending one of the whole bluefin butchery events at the restaurant.

It’s all about such ingredients treated reverentially but with some flexibility. The closest you’ll get to a near authentic Japanese experience at Musu is to book the Omakase. In my review of this for Manchester Confidential. A Dialogue of Discovery I describe it as “where connoisseurs of sushi and sashimi go ‘off piste’, leaving their bespoke menu up to a chef they are eyeball to eyeball with across an entire meal. He’ll be a shokunin (master artisan) and you are in his nimble hands as he slivers raw seafood or moulds nigiri in a masterclass of tactile dexterity.”

What I did learn from Omakase and tuna dismemberment was the three core cuts of the bluefin (and allowing none of the rest to go to waste). Akami (lean) chutoro (medium fatty) and otoro (fatty) are the holy trinity. 

Two of the cuts, akami and otoro, featured in the new look ‘Land of the Rising Sun by Michael Shaw’ tasting menu for spring – described as “a personal culinary journey through the heart of Japan, where each dish I present is a testament to the inspiration drawn from four distinct cooking styles: Edomae, Izakaya, Teppan and Kaiseki”. Check out the Musu website for full background on that culinary quartet. Inspiration is the word. Shaw is riffing on Japanese food, not just replicating.

You can choose between five, eight and 12 courses. We explored the latter, which costs £150 a head, the wine matches a further £95. Head sommelier Ivan Milchev provided us with small tastes of what goes on that list. Some brilliant matches there. Stand-outs included a red berry-fest of a PetNat from Austria’s Burgenland (partnering a snack of Cornish crab mousse with melon and togarashi), a fragrant and fruity medium-dry Rose d’Anjou surprisingly good with cod cheeks and lardo, a steak-friendly Mencia red from Northern Spain and my favourite. a lighter red Marzemino from the  shores of Lake Garda that took on yakitori brilliantly

Among the sashimi it’s good to contrast five day aged hamachi (Japanese amberjack) cured six hours in kombu with Cornish salmon six days aged, cured in salt. Each has its own character – the hamachi sour and slightly fatty in a beguiling way, the salmon less tangy, subtler. A trio of nigiri is delicately enhanced by citrus, lime zest for the sea bream, blood orange and umebushi for the Cornish turbot, while the otoro has a lick of wasabi (the proper stuff)…

Land of the Rising Sun – a journey beyond Japan

The Musu operation is among the slickest in Manchester. Just as there’s no stinting on the quality of raw materials, so the staff are tightly drilled about what they are offering. Still I can’t resist teasing our server about a ‘misfire’ on the pass. One course, of A5 Wagyu. has taken a while coming. Reason? A malfunctioning smoke gun refusing to apply the necessary finish inside the dish’s cloche.

When it arrives the intricately marbled steak is a smoke-tinged, melting delight. Burnt onion cream and crispy kale on brioche gives it an East meets West feel. Ditto with a later combo of 34 day aged beef and Wye valley asparagus with an array of miso caramel, lovage emulsion, whipped miso hollandaise/ bordelaise sauce. It’s a main that’s a long way from Kyoto.  

It’s the parade of more intimate dishes that float my boat. A tartare of red carabinero prawn with apple gel and oscietra in a butter dashi; a yakitori of umeboshi-glazed duck meatball; further duck with foie gras in a fried gyoza companied by salsify cooked in sake (and paired with sake); and my habitual Musu go-to, a chawanmushi that follows the Wagyu. This time this foaming savoury custard contains a substantial morel, peas and wild garlic.

To conclude a Yuzu sake of pineapple and mango with a red shiso sorbet is merely a palate cleanser before Shaw’s signature pudding. Guardian critic captured its rare beauty: “A salted white chocolate loveliness that was somewhere between a mousse, a ganache and a panna cotta, and also featured hints of almond and a scattering of something crumbly and sablé-esque.”

Classic European patisserie to end the sunniest of culinary journeys. Sayonara, Chef Shaw. 

Hoppiest days of the year? Definitely harvest time in Yakima, USA. Confession: I’d been pronouncing it ‘Yah-KEE-mah’ all this time, when it should be ‘YACK-i-maw’. Unfamiliar with Yakima? The name does crop up on craft beer cans, the contents of which increasingly rely on its prime product, hops. Oh, and it’s a lovely laid-back place to hang out in – preferably with a beer or two.

Yet it’s not a monoculture this super fertile agricultural valley in Washington State, irrigated by the Yakima River. It abounds in fruit, in particular apples, and its grapes produce some of America’s most thrilling wines, but there’s no escaping the hop in all its varieties – Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest, now globally familiar. Some 75 per cent of US hops are grown hereabouts in ideally suited volcanic soil.

So it seemed a good idea while passing through the region to drop in on the American Hop Museum in the township of Toppenish, whose major claim to fame is the 70 hand-painted murals, of recent origin, evoking its Wild West past. They are more vivid than the museum, which is as dry as last year’s hop pellets. Still this project of local pride, assembling the rusty machinery and fading pictures of yore, sets the scene for the hopfest to come.

Of all the stop-offs on our San Francisco to Seattle road trip this wasn’t the most obviously touristic and yet we found it fascinating from the moment post-museum when we lunched in a pizza place where a dab of Cascade hoppiness joins tomato and mozzarella as the prime toppings, nibbles are called hoppetisers and the merchandise includes hop-branded babygros. 

Hop Town Wood Fired Pizza, was our recommended lunch stop. It used to be a street food operation before taking over the folksy tasting room of the former Piety Winery, Donald Wapato Road (there’s now a second branch down the road in Sunnyside). 

A house IPA, naturally, accompanied our $12 Porky Pine Prosciutto nine-incher, where pesto, parmesan, pecorino, prosciutto, pine nuts (all the Ps), tomato, hops and a balsamic reduction smothered the charred, springy crust.  

We also shared a Hey! Elote!, a spicy corn dip  with chicken broth, lime, cholula hot sauce, salty cotija cheese and cilantro (coriander). Testimony to the Hispanic presence in hop country. A third of the population in Yakima, at home in its sunny desert climate, is Hispanic. It’s an area full of tacos trucks and shacks. Locals’ pick? Tacos Los Primos 2 at 404 N 4th St in the city proper. If you’re adventurous go for the tripe filling.

Generations of Mexican hop harvest pickers are celebrated in liquid form by Yakima’s brewing trailblazers Bale Breaker. Each year, cocking a snook at Trump and his Border Wall bigotry, they are a major player in Sesiones del Migrante, a series of beers brewed in collaboration with Mexican and American breweries. Co-founder Meggan Quinn poured us the latest, a Mango IPA that defines ‘tropical’, in the brewery’s garden, sheltered by tall bines, for this is a working hop farm (its 1,000 acres have even even suppled the likes of BrewDog in the UK). 

The operation’s roots run deep. Megann’s great-grandparents planted the first nine rows of hops on the family farm back in 1932, a year before the end of Prohibition. Just a decade ago she, her husband and siblings persuaded initially sceptical parents a custom-built brewery on site might just work and it has. The beer are so popular across the Pacific North-West they don’t need to export. Topcutter IPA and Field 41 pale ale are their flagship beers.

What astonished us about one of the world’s premier hop-growing regions was the lack until recently of local breweries tapping into the resource… or speciality beer bars. That’s all changing fast on the back of Bale Breaker’s impetus. One of their brewers, former wildlife biologist Chris Baum, and four buddies set up their own brewing operation, Varietal with the premise of wild yeasts, sours, fruit beers and barrel-ageing – the fun, cutting edge stuff.

Check out the Hop Country Beer Trail or sniff around the taprooms of the Old North Yakima Historic District, where the closure of the Northern Pacific Railroad once hit the town hard. Now, as in so many other similar places, this is where the cool fight back begins. Highly recommended is Single Hill with its attractive taproom and terrace, serving the like of Cerveza blonde ale or or Island Reverie, a benchmark guava and passionfruit sour.    

Cider, or what they call hard cider, is a refreshing alternative to beer. The custom-built Tieton Cider Works on the edge of town offers sampling tours. With apples and other fruit sourced from the family’s own organic orchards it’s a clean tasting product, a world away from our own trad scrumpy; we loved the smoked pumpkin cider.

The best restaurant in town is Crafted on North 1st Street. Dan Koommoo is in the kitchen and his wife Mollie front of house. The couple chose Yakima because Mollie’s family is from these parts; Thai-born Dan is a James Beard-nominated Cordon Bleu chef with a glittering cv. Together they have created a casual contemporary dining space, from oysters to cocktails a total delight.

Sunday mornings are for mooching around town. We kicked off with excellent coffee and double fudge brownies at the Essencia Artisan Bakery, a short walk from the historic Capitol Theater. Rebuilt after a fire in 1975, it allegedly hosts the ghost of Shorty McCall, a technician during the 1930s, who hanged himself there after an ill-fated love affair. 

Dating back to 1912, the Sports Center – so-called because of a hunting theme not because it’s a place to play basketball – is equally haunted with staff reporting eerie chills and the sound of clinking glassware. All this dates back to the days when it was a brothel with Mafia connections.

Our Downtown Yakima lodging, the Hotel Maison has a more benign but equally striking history. Six storeys high, it was built in 1911 during the boom times by prosperous Freemasons as their club. Crowning glory was the hugely ornate Masonic ceremonial temple on the top floor, designed to replicate the throne room of King Solomon’s Temple. Long mothballed, it has survived the building’s conversion to a hotel, 

Elsewhere the comfortable hotel’s decor playfully celebrates its Masonic past and, of course, the pre-eminence of the hop. On our Saturday night there we sipped complimentary Tieton cider and watched the weekly ‘paseo’ of vintage automobiles, all adding to the period charm of the place.

The best place to sample Washington wine Downtown is the Gilbert Cellars, showcasing the family’s wines such as Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. It saves having to trek out to their vineyard tasting room, but when in wine country it would be wrong not to sample in the wineries, all within easy reach of Yakima town.

I’d recommend the folksy Owen Roe Winery, an organically farmed estate whose reds are particularly impressive, the nearby Treveri Cellars, (tours for $50) sparkling wine specialists run by a German winemaker, whose top bottles have been served at White House receptions. 

Still the hop remains king hereabouts. A quintessential time to visit Yakima (fly into Seattle two and a half hours’ drive away) is autumn when the valley hosts its annual Fresh Hop Festival. This year’s date is October 5. A unique array of beers made with newly harvested ‘green’ hops showcases the individual character of each variety. Now that’s not to be sniffed at!

Bank holiday weekend and I’m motoring towards Scarborough. Mist wreathes Sutton Bank as I tackle the hairpin ascent. In drizzly Helmsley the tea rooms are doing a roaring trade and I’m consigned to the overspill long stay. This is journey’s end. No seaside scrum for me. A five minute walk across the Market Square, Pignut awaits.

Context here. This forage-centric restaurant is named after conopodium majus, a commoner than you’d imagine umbellifer, its delicate fronds confirming it’s a wild cousin to the carrot. Uproot it in spring and there’s the tiny edible tuber. Pigs love to guzzle it, hence the name. Alternative monikers include hog nut, earth nut and kipper nut. Trim off the outer skin and taste. Hazelnut? Definitely a hint of sweet chestnut apparently. Need to know more? Check out this video report from the pignut front line. 

Inside the eponymous restaurant I am not confronted by this forest gift, but there will prove to be a preponderance of late season wild garlic across the £95 eight course tasting menu I have chosen. Also figuring: sweet cicely, cow parsley and hogweed. All demonstrate the ethos behind this debut project from chef Tom Heywood and sommelier partner Laurissa Cook. Rows of ferments, pickles and oils are the sustainable bedrock of an operation rooted in the terroir. Ditto the commitment to local suppliers, proudly listed. This access to amazing raw materials played a big part in why the couple decamped from York, where they worked  together at the now departed Rattle Owl.

As it nears its first birthday I’m surprised how under the radar Pignut has been despite early Michelin recognition. Not quite on the level of Mýse eight miles to the south in Hovingham, which has been fast-tracked to an actual star inside its first year of opening. But then its chef/patron and fellow York escapee Josh Overington has a high national profile from his Cochon Aveugle tenure.

What both restaurants share, apart from open kitchens and stylishly stripped down interiors (Pignut has just six tables plus a cosy upstairs lounge), is a significant attention to their wine list. In Mýse’s case it is curated by Keeling & Andrew, the Noble Rot duo; Pignut’s is more eclectic, making the £65 seven 100ml glass wine pairing an act of global serendipity. Laurissa kindly let me have a truncated version since I had to drive home later via switchback Sutton Bank again, then the A1(M) and M62. I missed out on a Pedro Ximenez collab between Envínate and Bodegas Alvear in Montilla, a Polish Cabernet Sauvignon and, ‘local’ incarnate, Jacky Boy, an imperial stout from Helmsley Brewery 60 metres away. I’m sure the latter would have been perfect with course four, the house soda bread with whipped Fountains Gold Cheddar butter. The matches I did try (of each more soon) all worked brilliantly with Laurissa a font of information at my shoulder.

So what were the stand-out dishes – and wines – of this leisurely lunch?

After snacks built around wastage from other courses (think asparagus peelings in the chicken broth, lamb belly, heart and liver in a mini-faggot) came an exquisite salt-aged beef tartare given crunch by a soda bread crumb, accompanied by a chilled blend of Piemontese grape trio Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo – from Geyserville in California. 

To cope with the Goan spiced, Hodgson’s Crab, another wine at the natural end of the spectrum, a tropical Gewürztraminer from Slovakia. This went even better with a further sourcing from Hartlepool fishmonger Hodgson, which supplies over 20 Michelin star restaurants. This was a pearly tranche of wild brill which Tom had stuffed with a duxelle. After steaming it arrived topped with a smoked mussel under a torched lettuce leaf in an intense mussel and chive broth.

If that was subtle craftsmanship the final dish, a Moorside mushroom mousse, was the bravado barnstormer. Sourced from Luke Joseph at nearby Fadmoor, oyster mushroom and lion’s mane are made into a parfait that is then glazed with dark chocolate, topped with a coffee tuile and served with a mushroom ice cream. What could match this earthy pudding  adventure? I succumbed to the recommended Alcyone, an aromatised Tannat red from Uruguay, the bottle adorned with an image of that goddess of the sea, moon and tranquillity. Apparently the base wine was aged for several years in French oak and suffused with various herbs. Hints of chocolate, vanilla and mint reminded me of a Barolo chinato, a dessert wine with a similar savoury edge. A very clever match.

This dizzying climax to the tasting menu ‘encouraged’ me to enjoy a prolonged, post-prandial mooch around pretty, pantiled Helmsley, including its Walled Garden in the shadow of the ruined castle. Its community-focused five acres dedicated to horticultural therapy also supply herbs and flowers to Pignut. Naturally.  I hope all this kind of involvement earns them a place in the Good Food Guide’s 100 Best Local Restaurants, currently being assembled. A front-runner is Bavette near Leeds (review here), which makes up my trio of favourite new northern restaurant openings over the past 12 months.

Pignut’s menus alone, artfully adapting to the seasons, make them well worthy of inclusion. And back to that wine offering. I made my glass of Canadian Cabernet Franc stretch to include the Thornton-le Dale lamb course (maybe a heavy hand with shawarma spicing here) and Angus beef fillet from the Castle Howard estate with beef-fat baked asparagus and a pesto of wild garlic that felt relatively conventional.

My one regret from the visit? Perhaps I should have splashed out on an extra glass – of Belgian Chardonnay. No, me neither. But I foolishly balked at £16 for a 175cl glass. After it aroused my curiosity on arrival attentive Laurissa had poured me a generous taster. Could easily be mistaken for a top-end Macon. When I return to this charming spot, as inevitably I shall, staying overnight in the town, I may well order a bottle of the same. Maybe pignuts will be on the menu.

Pignut, 12 Bridge St, Helmsley, York YO62 5DX. Eight course tasting menu £95 (wine pairing £65), four courses £55 (£30).