Turned away from the House of Trembling Madness. It’s enough to turn you into a palsied leper begging for alms. It was to have been my debut at the newer, Lendal outlet of York’s quirkily monikered craft beer emporium. Like the original in Stonegate, the building dates  back hundreds of years and promises a refuge from the tourist hordes thronging the Harry Potter-haunted Shambles (or Hogwarts on Ouse, as I call it).

Back to H of TM. “Sorry we’re not allowing anyone in at the moment.” ”But there’s lots of room at the inn,” I splutter, surveying a handful of couples cradling cappuccinos. “Sorry, medical emergency upstairs.” 

Yes, I’ve failed to register the two ambulance responders outside (hope all turned out well), so instead I decamp to Trembling Madness I and its plethora of half timber and animal heads. Here I swiftly recover my equipoise over a pint and pork pie after a fraught rail journey across.
Fortunately I‘d booked the real object of my York visit for 5.30pm. Aiming for lunch, I might not have made it to Skosh. Broken Britain and all that. Still the day got better and better, culminating in that meal at the destination on Micklegate Observer critic Jay Rayner praised as “the ideal of what an ambitious, independent restaurant should be.”
That was back in 2017 when Skosh had barely been open a year. Last December it shut in order to knock through into next door – a former solicitors, also Grade II listed. The expanded Skosh looks a seamless treat, the open kitchen enlarged and room for walk-ins at the front (not that I was ever taking that chance). I eschewed the offered seat at the pass, but my solo diner’s corner table still offered a prime view of chef/patron Neil Bentinck (blow) and his team in action.

Micklegate has always been my happy place in York and an exemplary parade of small dishes has made it happier. Small plates with a generosity of invention behind them. Fusion is a tired term, so let’s call the Skosh menu ‘global melange’. Korean, Japanese, South Indian influences are all present, intriguingly yoked to some beautifully sourced UK raw materials (listed on the back of a menu that redefines eclectic.
Does it all work? Mostly. I’m still unsure of my final savoury course of tandoori octopus with lime pickle (£18). InItially brash in a smoky way, it won me over, sort of. It was a far remove from the delicate freshness of my snack opener – a sea trout papad packed with avocado, fennel and green strawberry (£4.50). The standard wine list is fine value and the carafe of Grüner Veltliner I ordered worked well with most of the dishes (a later glass of South African Grenache had work on its hands with the spiced up cephalopod).

Next up was an odd hybrid called ‘uthapam waffles’ (£8) – substituting for the South Indian semolina crepes a pair of Western style waffles. Light and friable, the conceit worked: sole caveat I would have liked larger portions of the delicious green tomato chutney and fresh coconut. But then the restaurant’s name derives from the Japanese sukoshi for “a little” or “small amount”.
Aguachile verde (£8) is Bentinck’s veggie version of the Mexican ceviche rival, featuring a kind of iced feta slush plus spring peas and broad beans. It was a verdant, tangy treat that acted as a kind of prelude to a bbq spring lamb tartare (£12), dotted with peas, heady with mint and wasabi. Almost a raw ringer for the keemas I’m sure the chef’s food-mad Indian dad used to prepare. Bentinck’s major influence without doubt is his travels in Australia, that melting pot of Pacific Rim cooking and South Eastern Asian influences, restaurants majoring in casual dining and the freshest produce.

My stand-out dish at Skosh couldn’t have been fresher. The ‘sashimi’ of day boat red sea bream paddled in a fragrant dressing of elderflower and rhubarb with a punch of green peppercorn. It was among the best dishes I have eaten across Yorkshire in the past 12 months and my gastronomic journey has taken in Mýse, the Abbey Inn at Byland, Pignut, Prashad and Bavette (do check out my reviews).
None of these have a kitchen as well-stocked with furikake, ponzu, nahm pla, xo sauce, miso pesto, gunpowder salt, gochujang and sichuan pepper. It’s OK to have access to such a broad spectrum of flavourings; it’s another thing to use them with discretion.Which the brave Bentinck mostly does. On my next visit I hope to discover how he seasons a Tokyo turnip.

Lime leaf is also a Skosh, spawning a collab can on their interesting beer list. Yet I really didn’t know what to expect from my closer of lime leaf cream, pineapple, lychee and shiso (£10). It arrived topped with what looked like a prawn cracker standing in for the clichéd tuile. It added crunch to a delightful combo.The citrussy bitterness of the shiso leaves was a beguiling counterpoint to the slightly caramelised pineapple and the muskiness of the lychee. A memorable, easeful meal for this solo diner.

Skosh, 98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX.

And while you’re up on Micklegate…

Skosh’s neighbour, The Falcon, is effectively the city tap for Turning Point Brewery of Knaresbough, but it also offers beers from other indie operations. It has been an ale house since 1715 and is decidedly smart. Micklegate Social, at the top of the drag near medieval Micklegate Bar, has a more shabby chic vibe, as befits a music venue. A decent cask selection and surprisingly good cocktails.

There are many approaches to eating and drinking in Glasgow. At the elevated end the city finally boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants – Cail Bruich in the West End and Unalome by Graeme Cheevers in still hip Finnieston. At the other end of the Clydeside spectrum you could test out the old Glasgae  stereotypes, deep-fried Mars Bars and Lorne Sausages, Buckfast and Irn Bru. I don’t expect these fixtures feature if you sign up for any of the recommended Glasgow Food and Drink Tours run by Gillian Morrison. In their palce you’ll be left with the sense of a city celebrating amazing Scottish produce and revelling in its burgeoning food and drink culture.

I’ve been lucky to visit the city frequently in recent years and have charted the sea change (yes, fresh seafood is to the fore). Below are my personal tips. In no away definitive, especially where pubs are concerned. As everywhere, hospitality is in a state of flux.  Along the way old stagers such as Rogano have gone and Gamba up for sale, while new places are springing up post-Pandemic. Next time I’m up Brett on Great Western Road is first on my bucket list after a rave review by Grace Dent in The Guardian.

THREE OLD FAVOURITES

If you’d asked me two years ago, The Ubiquitous Chip would have been nailed on. Since its launch in 1971 this converted stables had championed Scottish cuisine from homemade haggis with champit tatties, carrot crisp and neep cream to more contemporary takes on seafood such as seared Islay scallops with pumpkin fondant, malt crumble and seaweed butter. The glorious courtyard dining space only enhances the dining experience  – though I am also partial to the dram-filled warren that is the Wee Pub at the Chip. 

The culinary emphasis didn’t shift after founder Ronnie Clydesdale, the ‘Godfather of Scottish Cooking’, died in 2010, then two years ago his family sold the Chop to Greene Kings Metropolitan Pub Company. Ouch. Cheeringly head chef Doug Lindsay stayed on, but a recent scan of the menu didn’t encourage, so I’ve not been back.

The Gannet is a fledgling in comparison. Its chef/patron Peter McKenna gets credited with kickstarting the vibrant Finnieston dining scene from this narrow converted tenement. Also championing the best of Scottish produce? It goes with the territory. Now over a decade old, The Gannet stays true to its original mission statement: “Something that evokes Scotland’s Hebridean coastlines, giving a sense of place and landscape and at the same time offering a cheeky culinary reference as a moniker for those with large appetites: ‘The Gannet’ was christened.” For a sophisticated  take on those fecund fishing grounds check out the Cured Wild Halibut/Soy /Yuzu/Horseradish or the Tarbert Lobster/Barra Cockles/Summer Vegetables.  

My other two stalwart faves are near neighbours in the revitalised Merchant City (home to my recent hotel base, The Social Hub). A real pioneer in this quarter is Hebridean Seamas Macinnes, since 1983 at the helm of the Cafe Gandolfi in Albion Street with his sons now joining him. The L-shaped room offers a stylish rusticity featuring Tim Stead wooden furniture and quirky artwork. I particularly love the stained glass ‘A Flock of Fishes’ by Glasgow School of Art alumnus John Clark in the dining room (my main image).  Comfortable in its own skin, Gandolfi? Definitely. A snip of a house white, a Veneto Bianco, went equally well with a dish of Mull scallops and mackerel and a fillet of coley in an Arbroath smokies cream. Stornoway black pudding with potato rosti and pickled mushroom was equally comforting. In another season I might have gone for the Haggis (from Cockburn’s of Dingwall), neeps and tatties. The name, by the way, is nothing to do with Lord of the Rings. It’s a homage to the legendary camera maker. 

Just around the corner on Blackfriars Street, the Babbity Bowster  pub takes its name from an old Scottish wedding dance. If the weather’s warm the temptation is to linger in its countrified beer garden at odds with the urban surroundings. That would be to neglect the high-ceilinged cool white bar with a fine array of Scottish ales. The building itself, converted in 1985, is a 1790 tobacco merchant’s house, all that remains of an entire street built by Robert Adam. There is a restaurant and en-suite bedrooms upstairs.

SEAFOOD

There are fine seafood places along Argyle Street – among them the aforementioned Gannet and The Finnieston – but the pick of the catch for me is Crabshakk, This stripped back temple to fish has a sibling up at The Botanic Gardens, but I‘m in my happy plaice (sic) here. On my last visit, eating solo in this narrow space, I regretted not begging a large bib as I messily tucked into a whole crab at the counter, followed by a quite wonderful tranche of halibut in a tomato miso with a draping of monksbeard.

PIZZA

You do wonder when a hugely successful indie food business is sold. Take Manchester’s own Rudy’s Pizza, currently being rolled out across the land. Three months on from their own sale Glasgow’s own Neapolitan crust champions Paeseano still boasts just the two outlets – each with its own oven installed by Gianna Acunto,of Naples, no less. After a torrid train journey up I’m given a quiet corner table in the heaving Miller Street original, off George Square, self-medicating with a Negroni before demolishing a very large anchovy-caper-olive overload pizza at a modest price. Magnifico. 

PASTA

In the shadow of that great Victorian boneyard, The Necropolis  (3,500 monuments and  commemorating the city’s grandees plus 50,000 other soulsin unmarked graves) you’ll find Celentano’s, tucked away inside the sandstone pile of the Cathedral House Hotel. It’s the dream project of chef Dean Parker and his wife Anna, whose two-week Italian honeymoon inspired them towards this pasta-led project. Too dreamy? They also worked at some serious restaurants in London before moving to Glasgow a couple of years ago, swiftly earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Antipasti, primi, secondi are on the menu but there’s not a check tablecloth in sight. Their home-made pasta is the draw. Who could resists a Dexter beef ragu with your papardelle? Sourcing is immaculate – Mossgiel organic farm provides the ricotta for the agnolotti with cavolo nero and squash.

MEAT

Glasgow is not short of steakhouses. My own favourite for dry-aged prime cuts is 

Porter and Rye on the Argyle Street strip. A regular on the World’s Best Steak Restaurants list, it is a carnivore’s dream with side dishes such as bone marrow mac and cheese and beef dripping thick cut chips. The cocktails too are among the city’s best. Another carnivore’s treat is the Beef Wellington with beef fat carrots and horseradish (£90 for two to share but worth it) at Glaschu Restaurant & Bar, which takes its name from the Gaelic word for Glasgow, meaning “dear green place”. It’s set in the building of the 19th-century Western Club and is technically the club’s restaurant, but, unlike other members’ rooms, is open to the public.

VEGAN

Stereois housed in a Rennie Mackintosh building once home to The Daily Record in a lane near Glasgow Central Station, this bar combines a vegan kitchen with a basement live music space. Pair a Queer Brewing Fight Like Hell DIPA with an arepa with mole and tomato salsa or banana blossom tacos before taking in an indie gig downstairs. Under the same ownership, big brother Mono Cafe Bar is half a mile way

CRAFT BEER AND TAPROOMS

If Stereo gives you the taste for craft beer, the rest of Glasgow doesn’t disappoint. Current  mecca is down on Southside – Koelschip Yard with 14 cutting edge keg lines. Centrally try The Shilling Brewing Company, a groundbreaking brew pub in former bank premises. Order a flight of four third pints, ranging from the crisp blonde ale The Steamie to the more complex, coconut-roasted porter Black Star Teleporter. Pizzas are the main ballast, but they also offer ‘crust dippers’  that tip the hat to Glasgow with a chilli and Irn Bru flavour jam. An even more spectacular brewpub setting is to be found on Glasgow Green in the East End. The West Brewery and Restaurant occupies a corner of a carpet factory built to echo the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Why? That’s the only way wealthy citizens living nearby back in the 1890s, would allow such commerce to sully Glasgow Green. Today they’d have to put up with the clink of glasses in one of the city’s best beer gardens, serving tipples brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot – the German Pure Beer Law of 1516, specifying the use of only malt, hops and water. ‘Glasgow Heart, German Head’ is one slogan. There’s lots of Teutonic fodder to accompany. Ideal accompaniment? Their St Mungo, a full-bodied hoppy hybrid of a Bavarian Helles and a North German Pils

In sharp contrast a converted box factory is the base for the Drygate Brewing Company – a collaboration between acclaimed independent Williams Bros of Alloa and big brother Tennent’s. It is Glasgow’s interpretation of a US-style tap with 16 keg and four cask lines from the in-house brewery, viewed through a glass panel, and the requisite amount of bearded hopheads. Some excellent value food, too. On the sunny afternoon of our visit we just lazed on the large rooftop beer garden and supped pints of Bearface Lager. It is the antithesis of the mass market Tennent’s lager brewed next door, just to the south of the Necropolis. As a family business it predated the graveyard by centuries and there were once genuine fears the arrival of corpses would contaminate its spring water supply.

OLD SCHOOL PUBS

My fave remains The State Bar, off Sauchiehall Street, with its glorious Victorian interior, fine cask ales, Oakham Green Devil IPA a regular, and Glasgow’s longest-running blues jam. Some legendary musical talent has graced The Scotia on Stockwell Street, arguably the city oldest pub. All back in the day – the likes of John Martyn, Hamish Imlach and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band plus Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty when they were still folk duo The Humblebums. The look of the place, low and dark, has barely changed since the Sixties – the 1860s when there was a famous music hall next door. In 1792 when the Scotia was established, it was a favourite watering hole for sailors and folk heading for the Clyde penny ferry. Such ghosts of the past live on here – recorded paranormal activity is off the scale. 

INDIAN

Traditionally, a night of Glaswegian excess involving Tennent’s and dram chasers would end in the generic curry house. Like the rest of the UK there’s now a choice of Indians reflecting the subcontinents’s regional cuisines. For me the most attractive is that of the South – the land of coconut and curry leaves, dosas and moilees. In the Merchant City Dakhin has the menu for me. Recommended dish the palkatti dosa, where the rice and lentil batter crepe is filled with their homemade paneer. They also own the shinier Dhabba further down Candleriggs, which champions the very different food styles of North India.

FACT FILE: The latter was arguably the closest restaurant to my most recent hotel base, The Social Hub. Shiny new, this is the first UK venue for the Social Hub network, founded in Amsterdam over a decade ago by a Scot with a vision of combining affordable hotel space with student accommodation. There are now 23 scattered across Europe.  

I travelled from Manchester to Glasgow courtesy of Transpennine Express and sampled their new addition to the First Class experience, their West Coast Kitchen Menu.

For full Glasgow tourism information visit Peoplemakeglasgow.com and, if it is your first time, go for the City Sightseeing Tour, which you can hop on and off.

I pen this ode to the Gurnard on the day Sir Ian McKellen has decided not to return to the West End stage as Falstaff. Understandable fears were raised for the 85-year-old legend, AKA Gandolf,  after he crashed into the orchestra pit during a performance at the Noel Coward Theatre and was rushed to hospital.

Robert Icke’s Player Kings is an unashamed showcase for Sir Ian, compressing into one play Sir John Falstaff’s ‘star turns’ across Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Parts One and Two (plus his poignantly reported demise at the start of Henry V). We saw the production  at Manchester Opera House and were transfixed by this bravura, fat-padded tour de force.

So how does this tally with arguably the most unprepossessing of our sustainable fish? Well, think unsustainable PM Rishi Sunak’s cunning plan for National Service. On the eve of the Battle of Shrewsbury Sir John regrets lining his own pockets through his ‘recruitment policy’: “If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet.”

Typically Tudor, the gurnard’s fillets have been marinated in vinegar. This week in the Medlock Canteen, one of Manchester’s most interesting new eating places, I was served it whole off the barbecue as a fish special of the day, the bulging eyes in its large, prehistoric head staring regretfully up at me from a pool of melted butter, infused with lemon and chive. It was quite glorious, the firm white flesh easily detached from its bony, spiny frame. It’s not so easy to fillet the fish raw,

My fine specimen was apparently fresh in that day, so no qualms about ordering, Once home, though, I checked the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability charts to find the red gurnard fishery may be in choppier waters than I envisaged. I was certain it was the red common in the Irish Sea and off Cornwall, not the larger grey or tub varieties found elsewhere. The Project Inshore assessment, based on MSC sustainability standards? “Red gurnard – often a favourite among those encouraging consumers to choose alternative species – fared less well in the report (than cod and cockles). A shortage of data about fish stocks and limited management of catches mean that there is an urgent case for investment to improve our understanding of this fishery. While a shortage of data doesn’t mean that the fisheries are inherently unsustainable, that data will be increasingly important as the species gains in popularity and catches increase.”

Further choppy waters as I discover a Wildlife Trusts warning to avoid during the breeding season, May-July, while the Cornwall Seafood Guide advises against eating during the spawning season, April 20 August. Whatever, only consume mature gurnard, ie longer than 24cm. My lunch certainly measures up to that

My old friend Clarissa Hyman has written the most scholarly appreciation of the gurnard: “(The red’s) bright-red coloration and pinkish-silver mottling has led to it being called the ‘grondin rouge’ in France and the ‘Engelse soldaat’ in the Netherlands, a reminder perhaps of the uniforms their former red-coated enemies across the Channel once wore…

“One immediately noticeable, and somewhat unnerving, feature is the fish’s long, thin lower rays or tentacles of the pectoral fins. These contain sensory organs used to sweep the sea bed for dinner – the small fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates that lurk in the sediment. They derive their more gentle, alternate American name of sea robin from the large pectoral fins with which they seemingly ‘fly’ through the seas.” 

Once they are caught, then, what’s the best cooking method? The usual fillets fried, grilled poached or baked, all taking advantage of its firm white flesh, almost stickily akin to monkfish, that other ugly bruiser from the deep. Bouillabaise or soup would certainly accommodate the gurnard. Gone are the days when they seemd only fit for lobster bait. Endorsed by chefs, the gurnard is upwardly mobile. Quite a feat for a bottom-dwelling species given to making an unappetising croaking noise. Moral of the tale – who needs Sexy Fish when you’ve got Ugly Fish?

So why are flatbreads having their moment? And how many snails have to make the ultimate sacrifice to sate the ‘pillowy flatbread’ Instagrammers of London? Pillowy is always the reviewers’ adjective to bolster the image of unleavened delight. In the right hands. No one’s going to laud a supermarket pitta for its fluffiness.

But back to the Escargots and the topping role they are playing. Roe, a new 500-seater restaurant, has opened in Canary Wharf. It is an offshoot of Fallow in St James’ (my review), which sold 10,000 whole smoked cod’s heads dowsed in a sriracha emulsion in its first five months. At Roe the grasp-the-nettle dish is a flatbread with snail vindaloo, mint yoghurt and coriander for £11. For a fiver more there’s a Cornish scallop/bacon butter one.

Meanwhile, over in Shoreditch, bless, Bistro Freddie’s calling card is a more classic snails and parsley butter version, sometimes elevated to tarragon butter with scratchings of crisp chicken skin. Alternatively there’s currently a £13.50 bouillabaisse flatbread. Surely that’s the equivalent of pineapple on a pizza? Still it is an eye-catcher in these confusing  times when Esquire can devote a whole article to The Instagrammable Flatbread.

One reveal there from a Freddie’s sous-chef: “Flatbreads are traditionally unleavened (as the name suggests just flour, salt and water), but at many restaurants, flatbread dough and pizza dough are now basically the same thing. The yeast or sourdough starter (leavening agents) give the bread an improved flavour as well as those charming air bubbles and a pillowy (sic) texture. I guess it’s a way of un-Italian restaurants using a pizza without having to use the name.”

Flatbread goes upmarket. In January Tomos Parry’s Mountain in Soho was named Best New Restaurant in the Good Food Guide Awards and soon after scooped a Michelin star. When we visited to review we were so smitten by the house flatbread being wolfed by our neighbours we ordered our own to mop up some spice-oozing chorizo and ‘nduja with honey.

Manchester is awash with glistening flatbreads of a similar provenance and there is a substantial link with London. Freddie head chef is Anna Søgaard, once a key player in the rise of Ancoats. Raised between Florida and Copenhagen, Anna spent time in Nordic fine dining before joining Erst in 2019 and was co-founder of Manchester charity supper club Supp-HER.

Flatbreads are a constant at Erst, the current Manchester Food and Drink Awards Restaurant of the Year, which still modestly tags itself a ‘Natural Wine Bar & Restaurant. Lardo or gremolata are the usually, equally modest sounding toppings of choice. Cue Observer critic Jay Rayner, who kicked off with their flatbread take on pan con tomate: “On the grill it has bulged and expanded, blistered and broken. It is spread with freshly chopped tomato pulp, grassy olive oil and a knuckle-crack of garlic…. It manages to be crisp and soft, sour and mellow all at the same time. It is the best £5 I have spent in a very long time. Alongside it, we have ordered meaty Cantabrian anchovies, floating on their olive oil pond, with a generous dusting of chilli flakes. The anchovies find their way on to the bread…

“We tell our waiter we’d like another. He reminds us that we’ve already ordered the other version, which comes brushed fatly with garlic herb butter, with a quenelle of bright white whipped lardo on the side. I spread it across the hot bread and watch it melt into the crevices. It’s dripping toast, but as rebooted by Hollywood. It’s the George Clooney of garlic breads: elegant, sophisticated, but with substance underpinning the gloss and shimmer.” Don’t sit on the fence, Jay. 

I think he’d also love the genuinely pillowy offering at a ‘Persian Flatbread Kitchen’ that has surfaced in the Exhibition food hall on Peter Street, Manchester, ironically opposite Neapolitan dough champions Rudy’s Pizza. Another Hand, up on Deansgate Mews, has already won plaudits for its ‘Wildfarmed flour’ house flatbreads but at just 24 covers and concentrating on multi-courses there was felt a need for a further outlet. Hence Jaan By Another Hand, sharing the substantial dining space with two Manc indie favourites Baratxuri and OSMA. It also stays true to the sustainable ethos of Another Hand’s chef duo of Julian Pizer and Max Yorke. Unused produce from Another Hand can transfer to a second kitchen in a fast paced venue, further reducing their waste systems.

The slow-fermented, wood-fired flatbread menu is invitingly comprehensive, featuring the likes of slow cooked lamb shank, ancient grains, house pickles, lemon tahini labne, feta mint and house flatbreads; grilled octopus, ‘nduja, green tomato, rosemary, smoked peppers, blackened lime and puffed grains; fire roasted sea trout fatoush salad, fried bred radish and sumac; chermoula chicken broken rice, pickled tomatoes and crispy herbs; and scorched summer squash, burnt onion broth, pickled chilli and za’atar. 

Dishes are priced between £8 for a simple back garlic butter version to £24 for the lamb shank. A good way in is the lunchtime special (until 4pm), which currently offers. for £10. the ras-al-hanout lamb flatbread plus a soft drink or non-alcoholic beer (for £2 more substitute a glass of decent Macedonian white). In addition Julian kindly sent out an extra elderflower-infused smashed cucumber and pickled seaweed salad (£6.50) that was a perfect complement. At Exhibition you can mix and match dishes from across the trio of operators.

The world is flat-bread! Even Noma is getting in on the act

All the fine purveyors mentioned are only reinventing the wheel, Flatbreads remain ubiquitous and essential across many cultures. The list is endless – pide and gözleme in Turkey, tabouna in Palestine, Pane carasau in Sardinia, injera in Ethiopia, roti/chapati across the Indian sub-continent and mch, much more. All based on the wholesome trinity of flour water and salt.

My own attempts have been a mixed success. but I was pleased with my take on Noma Projects’ Flatbread with Garum marinated oyster mushrooms. Even if I did substitute Watkins mushroom ketchup and a dash of colatura di alici for Rene Redzepi’s smoked mushroom garum. Here is the surprisingly undaunting recipe.

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. 

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).

Monsoon season in Old Delhi. The day before we arrived the city had come to a standstill as storms vented their fury. And you think the UK is cursed with potholes. Our taxi, destination the spectacular Jama Masjid Mosque, had clattered and bounced. After which, we splashed our way on foot to the equally iconic Karim’s restaurant in the labyrinth of Chandni Chowk. The original North Indian food benchmark.

Monsoon season in Manchester’s ‘Medieval Quarter’. Well, almost. Haven’t the last 18 months been the wettest period in the UK since records began? Rain abated as we crossed the threshold of the decidedly dry and welcoming Corn Exchange atrium. I can’t remember the last time I visited; there are so few places in there whose food attracts me. Mostly bland brands. With the exception of local Italian standard bearers Salvi’s and Mowgli which, though now part of a 20-strong chain, still reflects the ‘Indian home cooking’ ethos of founder/driving force Nisha Katona. Now an addition to that short list as I belatedly discover a family-run outpost of Delhi cuisine (with concessions to our own casual dining culture). 

The Delhi House Cafe is quite a different beast to the aforementioned Karim’s. Can it  match it in ‘authenticity’, whatever that means? After all, that mecca for Mughal-centred foodies has been in existence for a century, the formica tables only slightly less. And guess what, it has spawned 15 further Karims around Delhi.

The DHC project is much more modest, open just a couple of years. Its founders, the Lamba family, hail from a Delhi textile dynasty and their venue reflects their swish style sense. It’s the kind of restaurant/bar you might find in New Delhi’s ultra modern, hi-tech satellite city Gurgaon, which I have also visited, cannabis plants growing wild on the roadside in the shadow of start-up company high rises.  A far cry from the view across Cathedral Gardens to venerable Chethams.

I was there to sample chef/patron Sherry Lamba’s new menu. It ticks boxes I have been exploring on how UK Asian cuisine, notably second generation, evolves. Check out this link. In truth, here it is just tweaks on an established formula, but tasty ones. The receptacle for a spicy mutton keema taco is a paratha, while brioche buns host ghee roasted chicken sliders with mint chutney. More leftfield/fusion is their Monster Chicken Lollipop, a fried chicken leg with Indo-Chinese flavoured sweet and sour sauce and house salad, their take on a sub-continent street favourite. The Delhi imprimatur is not unbending. Witness the menu presence of Alleppey fish curry and Goan prawn curry from the South.

And while Mom’s Buttered Chicken, Tikka Masala style, deservedly remains their most popular dish it also reappears as a topping on a cheese naan base with pizza toppings for the same price, £13.95.

I’d already veered from the Indian restaurant taste template by not ordering a pint of Cobra, opting instead for a bottle of IPA from White Rhino, the country’s first craft brewers, based in the Chambal region, once known as bandit country. It’s surprisingly impressive.

As I ordered a second I discussed my penchant for pooris with Varendra, Sherry’s dad, who works front of house in this close-knit family enterprise. Were their dahi pooris better than Mowgli’s across the court? You know the style – whole wheat puffs with a potato and chickpea/tamarind and mint chutney filling. Let them pop whole in your mouth or risk dousing your chin. I passed the test after Varendra supplied. His further extra was simply sublime. Palak patta chaat consists of battered spinach leaves with mint, tamarind & yoghurt. It called for a third rush of Rhino. A series of dishes like this is my favourite way to eat Indian. OK, I wouldn’t a helping of butter chicken with a basket of breads. Delhi House’s naans are exemplary. Better than Karim’s? The jury’s out.

Delhi House Cafe, Unit 10, Corn Exchange, Manchester, M4 3TR. 0161 834 3333

This Easter Weekend an extraordinary Japanese home cooking project found a permanent base. Its tangled global roots encompass the northern island of Hokkaidō, Hong Kong, Australia and Scotland. Affluent Manchester suburb Didsbury took Midori to its heart and arguably its finest bar, Wine and Wallop, is now the prime outlet for gyoza, glass noodles, daikon pickles and other quietly challenging dishes that subvert that tired culinary template of sushi rolls, commercial ramen and crude katsu curry.

A long lunchtime pre-launch road-testing convinced me that the food put out by Claire ‘Midori’ Cassidy and her partner Ruari Anderson lives up to the almost Studio Ghibli back story evoked on their website.

Claire trained as a journalist and it shows. Let me quote: “Unbeknownst at the time to founder and creator Midori (the name means green), her appreciation for soulful Japanese home cooking was born one autumn afternoon in the early ’90s, as she watched her late grandmother Reiko chop fresh vegetables picked that very morning from the ‘hatake’ (communal allotment) down the road. There, in Reiko’s humble kitchen, Midori’s mother, aunt and grandmother sat cross-legged on cushioned mats, skilfully wrapping gyozas whilst chatting, laughing and bickering…

“During the long and harsh Hokkaidō winters, temperatures would typically plummet to -10°C, house-bounding the citizens of Otaru, a rural fishing village situated on the west coast of Japan’s northernmost island. In anticipation of these looming conditions, the ritual of preparing food in bulk – from pickling and fermenting vegetables to wrapping gyoza – would take place annually with the combined efforts of family members and neighbours.”  

Flash forward to Lapwing Lane on a decidedly unsettled Bank Holiday Weekend in 2024 Britain. The Midori menu at Wine and Wallop will be available here (not at W&W Prestwich or Knutsford) 12pm-9pm daily. Claire won’t obviously be at the stove all the time. She and Ruari have to supply their amazing gyozas to cherished local stockists and promote the brand online, too. With all the pressure I was pleased she found time to answer a questionnaire I put to them…

Tell me about yourselves. Your Japanese background, Claire? Your grandmother in Hokkaidō was a major influence, I believe? The Hong Kong connection? The Scottish connection? Where did you both first meet?

“I am Hong Kong born and (for the most part) bred Japanese/Scottish “halfie”, though I’ve attended schooling in various other cities like Vancouver, Edinburgh and Melbourne due to my Dad’s basings as a commercial pilot. Ruari and I met in Hong Kong in 2013 when I’d returned home from Oz (uni), and discovered we had lived mirrored lives – he too had attended the same secondary school in HK and had completed his sixth form at a boarding school in Scotland and university in Australia – all eight years apart (Claire is 34, Ruari 42). 

“My summer holidays were typically spent at my grandparents’ in Otaru (a port city not far from Sapporo) where the women in the family were big foodies – as you may know, Hokkaido is a hot spot for tourists from other prefectures and SE/East Asian countries for its fruit, seafood and artisan offerings. 

“Ruari was born in Stirling to Scottish parents and subsequently spent his childhood in Dubai and Bahrain until the Gulf War, then 25 years in HK. We believe our international upbringing and being ’third culture kids’ has been the reason behind our strong foundation and adventurous appetites. Also, my first job as a flight attendant opened my tastebuds to new flavours and intensified my obsession with food.”

How was the Midori brand born? How does it differ from the sushi/ramen offering that is everywhere in the city now? Explain the secrets of gyozo making. Why are yours so much better than the commercial frozen variety?

“The brand was born out of a lack of options in Manchester for home-style Japanese cooking; dishes I’d consider to be ‘comfort food’ and off the beaten track of westernised sushi rolls, ramen and katsu curry. We moved to the UK in 2016 and being homesick for quite some time, I really craved these familiar flavours. During lockdown, Ruari (day job care sector worker) and I ordered dumplings from a dim sum house in the city centre and with delivery fees, it was extortionate – and not very tasty! 

“Becoming disillusioned with the rat race and the absence of nearby East Asian grocers (other than in town) were the main triggers behind the decision to make my own and launch our product, using my grandmother’s recipes and wrapping techniques. Thankfully, this was well received in Didsbury and from there, we grew into serving at local festivals in the summer and pop-ups.

“There are obviously other frozen gyoza brands that are much cheaper and contain more per pack, and we have tried and tested them all, but they lack flavour and contain many preservatives. Aside from that, they have a 30:70 filling to wrapper ratio – mine are packed to the brim with only high quality, locally-sourced meat and allotment-grown veg where possible with strictly NO dodgy additives. 

“As I’ve learned through this journey, there are many tips to creating the perfect gyoza, from removing moisture from veg (like cabbage and mushroom) with high water content to intensify the flavour, using meat with a 15-20 per cent fat content to ensure maximum juiciness and keeping the filling and dough below room temperature. In regards to wrapping, each gyoza must be fully sealed with no air pockets to retain meat juices and uniform in weight to ensure even cooking. As it turns out, this skill has proven difficult to teach part-time in an economically efficient manner as it’s all down to speed and muscle memory!” 

Check out Midori’s gyoza cooking tips here.

Is what you do essentially Japanese home cooking? Are authentic ingredients the key? How important are local suppliers such as your Didsbury butchers?

“It is paramount that we use authentic ingredients to capture that true, recognisable flavour of Japanese cooking and we have a great relationship with Axons (who as you know, supply our meat and stock our products). Since starting this venture in July 2022, we’ve been so impressed with the support we received from Didsbury’s ever-growing community of grassroots businesses – something that simply doesn’t exist in Hong Kong’s ‘dog eat dog’  corporate mentality. Up until fairly recently, it’s been a struggle to source certain ingredients like daikon radish and sashimi-grade fish locally – lucky for us, neighbourhood greengrocers like Fresh Save and Family Mart have started stocking Asian veg and fishmongers like Evans and Out of the Blue offer sushi ingredients.”

Explain the Wine and Wallop/Didsbury connection?

“We kind of found Didsbury by accident. We first moved from HK to Cuddington in deepest Cheshire and it was simply too rural for us there. Being five minutes down the road from ours, W&W was my go-to whenever I got cabin fever while WFH. How we came to collaborate with them was down to pure luck; I walked in one day for a coffee and Rachael (the previous manager) offered me a one-off pop up. It was a success so that led to monthly events, supper clubs and private sushi and gyoza making workshops. We’d even go as far to say it has become our second home.”

My favourite Midori dishes (and matching cocktails)?

The gyoza are the stand-out. Pork, lamb, miso mushroom, fanned out on a sharing platter (£28 for 15 pieces), a wonderfully soft, creamy offering. That’s not to diss the tsukune, teriyaki-glazed chicken meatballs (four pieces for £7.50). Changing tack, more challenging were sunomono (£5), slithery, sharp cucumber and glass noodles in tangy umezushi plum vinaigrette and natto gohan (£6), which tops rice with whipped fermented soy and cured egg yolk shavings. I liked both dishes but maybe marmite for bar punters?

I relish a Japanese pickle and the tsukemono take on daikon radish (£7.50) is glorious, while similar perfect bar food is the renkon (£4) lotus root crisps and the absurdly moreish wafu fries (£5.50), which are topped with Worcester-like okonomi sauce, kewpie mayo and roasted seaweed and bonito flakes. Beer fodder for me, but don’t neglect barman Jack’s appropriate cocktails – the Bloody Mary equivalent, Blood Moon/Kaiki Gesshoku featuring gochujang, and the Martini based on bisongrass vodka and yuzu and topped with a shisho leaf, called River Tiger/Kawatora.

Wine and Wallop, 97 Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury, Manchester M60 6UR.

I’ve been taking flak for concentrating too much on reviewing new restaurants in London. In redressing the balance I have broken an unwritten rule – never go in too early. Let the paint dry, the initial glitches get fixed.  Apologies then for my haste to this Northern trio – Bavette, neighbourhood bistro in Horsforth near Leeds, ‘veteran’, open all of three weeks; The Lamb of Tartary dining pub in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, just a handful of days in; and Eight at Gazegill, organic farm restaurant in the lee of Pendle Hill, that officially opened only this weekend gone. Each brings something special to their respective patch, each is helmed by a chef with an inspiring cv, each is bravely tackling the harsher hospitality environment outside the capital.

Bavette – echoes of the legendary Racine

I’ll start in this same order with Bavette, which has hit the ground running. The top end of Town Street in Horsforth has more than its share of ‘To Let’ signs; down towards The Green business looks healthier. Nowhere, though, has near the élan of this bistro arriviste, set up by a Leeds lad, back from London success, and his French husband. Sandy Jarvis is the chef and Clèment Cousin, front of house and sommelier. Their is a smart fit-out with the open kitchen set well back. 

What takes my eye is the bookshelves that divide the space. I like a chef who wears his influences on his sleeve (or rather dust jacket). There is Le Pigeon, a cookbook celebrating chef Gabriel Rucker’s Portland Oregon take on classic French food. To prove it can be done well beyond La Belle Patrie, though a dinner I had there on a 2017 West Coast road trip didn’t live up to the recipes I’d cooked from at home. A large illustrated tome devoted to Pâté en Croûte nudges me into believing the Gallic torch might burn brighter this blustery lunchtime a 20 minute bus ride from Leeds centre.

So, of course, I ordered the Venison and Pork Pâté en Croûte (£12.50) along with another quintessentially French starter, a Seafood Bisque (£11). The former was a juicy morass of tangled meat flakes in a taut pastry casing, the icing on the croûte a savoury Earl Grey jelly; the latter came with a pimento-spiked rouille and dinky croutons and was a deep dip into pure poissonnerie. Earlier, nibbles had been a quartet of croquettes (£6) oozing with molten Comté. My accompanying glass of white, like much of the list, comes from natural  specialists, Wayward Wines of Chapel Allerton, so the crisp 100% Saugvignon Mikaël Bouges La Pemte de Chavigny was an old friend. Clèment Cousin’s family are iconic minimum intervention winemakersin the Loire and there’s a sub-section of half a dozen ‘family specials’ bottles.

The Bavette partners met while working at Covent Garden’s groundbreaking Terroirs natural wine bar, now closed. Sandy’s route there was not typical of the hospitality trade. After studying chemistry at university  in Manchester he enrolled at Leith’s cookery school in London, where he was inspire by a guest speaker, also a personal hero of mine – Henry Harris of Racine. With his cooking diploma but no cv to speak of, he persuaded Harris to take him on at the Knightsbridge bistro that was more authentique than most such establishments across La Manche. It’s a decade since the original Racine shut, less than a year since Harris joyously revived it as Bouchon Racine above a Farringdon pub. When I, unaware of the past link, tell Sandy, now 39, it was the best of its kind since my Bouchon blow-out in May he is more than delighted. You sense, after carving out an impressive London career (Brawn, Culpepper), this a dream realised of doing the French bistro food he likes best in a place of his own.

Catching up on my research later, I discover a pork chop would be his desert island main. Arguably mine too now after sampling his Pork Chop à la Grenobloise (£20) – a pretty fan of sweet fatted tenderness, dressed with capers, parsley and lemon, accompanied by a potato puree as smooth as Joël Robuchon’s classic version. I feel almost a traitor to veer off to a a glass of Italian red. Crucella is from the Campania, a blend of Merlot, Freisa and Sangiovese offering soft tannins and a beguiling lick of liquorice.

The mains choices inevitably also feature a bavette steak with shallots and, a source of next table plate envy, sea bream with a vin jaune sauce, buttered leeks and fondant potato. Among the puddings is another Sandy desert island must – a Paris-Brest, created in 1910 to honour a bike race between the French capital and the Breton port. It is designed to resemble a bike wheel, with its ring of pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, split horizontally and filled with a praline mousseline. So French. Maybe next time. I have no regrets about finishing with a with old stager crème brûlée with Yorkshire rhubarb. My digestif? A quince liqueur from the Gaillac region. Santé, Bavette.

The Lamb of Tartary – legend in the past, maybe in the making

I love heavy curtains over an entrance. Historically they were to keep out off-street draughts. As at the aforementioned Racine. They are in situ too at The Edinburgh Castle, which has this year debuted in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list at no.24 under the stewardship of Shaun Moffat (ex-Manteca, Berber & Q in London), who has just scooped Chef of the Year at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. Now some spectacular drapes garland the way into what was Castle stablemate Cottonopolis, re-invented  as The Lamb of Tartary. Exec chef Shaun has been charged with putting his own food stamp in place of a tired formula of NQ bar with bee motifs, Czech tank beer and Asian-inspired dishes.

Already it looks jazzier, the fabric wow mirrored in the booth furnishings in what is otherwise quite a pastelly re-furb. When I test the all-day food offering very early on it definitely shares much of the Edinburgh Castle nose-to-tail, respond-to what’s-on-the market ethos Shaun made much of in a down to earth 2022 interview with me. The dishes bely the poncy pub moniker, which namechecks the legend of a lamb that manages to be both a true animal and a living plant. Vegans look away now. The belief was that cotton plant Agnus scythicus of Central Asia fed sheep that grazed around it via a kind of umbilical cord. When all accessible foliage was gone, both plant and sheep died.

So, yes, I do order the Texel cross lamb saddle chop, sourced not from Tartary but near Knutsford. Costing £32, it’s part of the grill menu. Ideally I’d have preferred the lamb fat crisper but that’s a minor cavil. A pubbier use of the lamb is in a Scotch egg but, early days, that isn’t quite ready for the pass on our visit. A surprising triumph from the grill is fleshy salt-baked celeriac (£15). Glorious. From Pollybell Farm for all you source nerds, it is served with Polyspore mushrooms and bitter leaves. And naturally I add a side of triple-cooked chips because a Shaun’s kitchen does them so well.

The rest of our lunch consists of small plates that seem well placed as superior drinks ballast, for the aim is for an all-day dining pub – in contrast with so many ‘gastropubs’ that are clearly restaurants in disguise. There’s proper, funky brown crab meat in a crumpet for £8, a Belted Galloway steak tartare (£12) that comes with quality potato crisps, home-cured sea trout in a heady caper mayo with Pollen sourdough (£12) plus another impressive veggie plate, plunging purple sprouting and burrata into a chlorophyll rich sauce (£9). And to start it all off there had been Achill oysters from Ireland given Shaun;s trademark rhubarb mignonette dressing (main image).

Puddings were still a work in progress they weren’t even on a printed menu. There’s a dense concoction of chocolate and cherries and a quieter pannacotta, smothered in forced rhubarb compote that I marginally preferred. As at The Edinburgh Castle the wine list is well priced but not very adventurous and there are couple of cask pumps (go for the Buxton Brewery). Would I pop in for a casual beer. Probably not, with Pelican Bar across the road and Port Street a two minute walk. For food? I can’t wait to return.

Eight at Gazegill – I remember when this was all fields…

Well it still is, almost. I’m cheating here. Canapes and Bolney fizz at a aunch party can’t generate a review, but I’m so keen to plug this daring, remote eco venture I’ve already previewed towards the end of its seven gestation. It is on an award-winning organic farm with zero miles access to all their livestock and produce. Ian O’Reilly and Emma Robinson are custodians of 250 acres of unspoiled  farmland, with hay meadows and more than 50 species of wild flower and herbs, that has been in her family for 500 years. Last year Gazegill won Countryside Alliance Rural Oscar for Best ‘Local’ Food & Drink Retailer in the UK. Now the next step.

The new, ultra-sustainable restaurant building wouldn’t look out of place in a vineyard in the Napa Valley, but this is the Ribble Valley. The plan is for Eight to join all those other places that have turned it into a major foodie destination. To make their intentions clear they have hired Doug Crampton, who learnt his craft at the legendary Anthony’s in his native Leeds and ran James Martin’s Manchester restaurant for nearly a decade.

It’s called Eight because it’s an octagonal, 100-cover oak structure with large Pendle-ready picture windows, the whole space powered using stored solar energy generated on-site by a wind turbine and solar voltaics. The open kitchen boasts a wood-fired oven, central both  to a casual daytime dining operation and to tasting menus Fridays and Saturday evenings. Spring arriving, the outside terrace can host a further 60 folk.

The evening we arrive for the launch it is very un-springlike but the welcome is warm and generous. A harbinger of good times ahead came in the shape of a simple chipolata. Made with Gazegill’s own nitrite-free organic pork, it is flavoured with wild garlic from the fields we are looking across at. The farm employs its own regular forager. The glaze on this delicious bite is made with honey from their own bees. 

Suburbs, cutting edge city quarter, unspoilt countryside… the seeds of some great northern eating places have been sown.

It’s well over a year now since that ‘miracle on the moors’, The Moorcock Norland, closed its doors for good. Chef patron Al Brooke-Taylor is back in his adopted home of Australia pursuing his passion for pottery. I follow him from afar via @natural.ceramics on Instagram.   Yet, while I respect the ceramic side of his complex creativity, I do miss the food he put on the plate. Well even from the start it arrived on his own rustic bowls, crafted in part with the ashes from the wood-fired grill central to his culinary vision.

Back in April 2018 I wrote the first ever review of that groundbreaking menu, chalked up on a board alongside what remained a proper Yorkshire pub bar in the hills above Sowerby Bridge. Look beyond the hand-pulled Taylor’s Landlord to the printed drinks list and you discovered treats that set it way apart from any normal local – rare Belgian beers and cutting edge natural wines, curated by e[ic sommelier Aimee Tufford, Al’s then partner.

Aimee remains a presence in the north, still promoting the drinks she loves, sometimes in conjunction with natural wine pioneers Buon Vino, but she is also running supper clubs and tasting events with the talented Tom McManus, Al’s kitchen sidekick. For more details visit her Curve Wine website.

Through Aimee I discovered a lifeline back to my favourite Moorcock dishes. The Brooke-Taylor Natural Ceramics blog now features a handful of his signature recipes. He started on New Year’s Eve with his general philosophy on a well-stocked pantry, since when he has posted a sequence of recipes and, fascinatingly the reasons behind them. Yeast mayo was one, but that is forever bound in my mind with its accompanying the Moorcock’s incomparable Crispy Smoked Potatoes and, yes, that recipe is its blog neighbour. Apparently this longest running dish on the menu (the deep-fried herring bone debuted and then disappeared forever) sparked poems, even an erotic short story, from fans desperate to know the recipe’s secrets.

I have a print-out to go on but also a mole from the Moorcock camp. My daughter Emily was part of the kitchen brigade for a while. She was at my elbow as this week I attempted to recreate the dish. I bought the very suitable pink fir apple spuds and pre-roasted them in the Aga, but she was the one who gave each the squidgy massage to gently tear them before I smoked them with my Camerons stovetop device. A poor substitute for the Moorcock grill embers she once helped stoke, but it worked. Then a swift deep-frying and Voilà! as they say in these parts. In place of the yeast mayo or cultured butter I served them with wild garlic mayo and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. Did my spuds match up? Not quite. They lacked the deep wildness of the original. I shall pursue.

Genesis of the Crispy Smoked Potatoes

The idea was to mimic triple fried chips without all the repeated deep frying, explains the blog entry…

“In the first year I took them off the menu for 2 weeks when the variety of potatoes I liked to use went out of season, which came with a hard boycott. One of the few times my stubbornness in the kitchen was over-ruled. 

“The dish relies on the variety of the potato used, not all are created equal. We were constantly testing through out the year to find the perfect spud. Varieties we had the best success with were Mayan Gold, Pink Fir Apple, Wilja, Carolus, Maris Pipers and Russets. The key is finding a potato with earthy flavour with as little sugar and moisture as possible. Once the potatoes decide its time to get ready to sprout they convert to sugar, then they burn before they crisp and the search for the next talented variety continues. The same for a wet or waxy potato, they just stay soggy. The wild card in that list of potato varieties is the pink fir apple. They are a waxy potato, strong flavoured. Usually good for boiling and using in salads. Surprisingly they do make wonderful crispy smokes…

“So there are four stages – baking, massaging, smoking, frying. The baking stage gelatinises the starch, the massaging makes the centre of the potato fluffy and soft to mimic the over cooking second fry in triple cooked chips, the smoking dries the outside of the potato thickening the starch layer on the outside and frying crisps the potato.”

For a further deep dip into the whole process do visit the website. It’s a fascinating journey through what is now past, though young Tom ‘keeps the fires burning’ with his projects. On the shelves of the Moorcock one cookbook stood out – the mission statement of Kobe Desramualts, Al’s mentor at Michelin-starred In de Wulf in Flanders.

If the Moorcock had survived past its five year span who knows if a cookbook of its own might have sprung from such a fertile kitchen? There may yet be time.