Destination restaurants in Manchester hotels are almost extinct. The days when Michael Caines had his name over the door at Abode and David Gale ruled Podium at the Hilton further down Piccadilly are long gone. Both now offer standard hotel brasserie fare. As do relative newcomers such as Dakota (though their Grill, well sourced, is surprisingly good), QBIC and Hotel Brooklyn.

Adam Reid, following his mentor Simon Rogan at The French inside the Midland Hotel, continues to fly the flag for Great British Menu style fine dining, but even that failed to make the cut in this year’s Estrella Damm Top 100 UK Restaurants list.

Arguably the city’s most high profile hotel, The Lowry, has dumbed down from the early Noughties days when German chef Eyck Zimmer created some of the finest dishes ever seen in Manchester. Recent restaurant space makeovers there and at the Radisson Edwardian do not equate to a radical upgrade of the food offering. The Peter Street Kitchen at the latter, partnering Mexican and Japanese menus, is a wild card, though. Let’s leave it at that.

Which bring us to Sunday lunches, a perennial draw in hotel dining rooms. Scrap them at your peril. The worst case scenario being carveries, which discreetly we’ll shove on the back burner.

Possibly the best roast in town is inside the Stock Exchange Hotel, at the Bull and Bear. You’d expect that from Tom Kerridge, whose whole ethos trumpets comfort food done with accomplishment. But, though the stunning setting sings ‘destination’, we’re not talking food on a level of his two Michelin star pub in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers.

The Ducie Street Warehouse has relaunched its own Sunday Lunch offering with the added bonus of the UK’s first dedicated Cauliflower Cheese Menu, courtesy of head chef Andrew Green, who has previous in this department. At Mamucium dairy took centre stage one ‘Cheesemas’ with a menu that included a 3kg cheese wheel to share. 

I must admit my arteries wobbled at the though of tackling classic vintage cheddar cauliflower cheese and twists featuring truffle, bacon fizzles, blue cheese (our choice), garlic and herb crusted, macaroni, a totally vegan cauliflower cheese and, the ultimate, a four cheese version with parmesan, gruyere, philadelphia and cheddar. 

Relief came at table when I realised they were all sides at £4.50 a pop. Alternatives included old stagers such as Cumbrian pigs-in-blankets and honey roasted heirloom carrots.

Head chef Andrew Green is a meat and cheese specialist putting his stamp on Ducie Street Warehouse

Glossop-born Andrew has been one of the Manchester chef stalwarts in recent years. Though he started in an Italian restaurant, the rest of his his professional career has been in hotel kitchens, a couple at the Airport before he headed up The Lowry’s and then Mamucium’s. His forte has been meat cooking, notably a classic Beef Wellington, and he has always sourced from top notch butchers such as Mettrick’s, WH Frost and currently The Butcher’s Quarter.

So why am I slightly disappointed in the dry-aged shorthorn beef sirloin and roast supreme of corn fed chicken we share as mains? Small plate starters had signalled a user-friendly, standard, global hotel menu, but our mains didn’t take it up a gear. A pond of all-purpose gravy, chewy roasties and chunky Yorkies didn’t do the meats any favours – the chicken tasty enough but on the dry side, beef sliced in thin wafers needed the lift of the horseradish we requested.

Alternative Sunday mains were rosemary roasted leg of lamb, free-range gammon and a weekly changing vegan roast. You can even order a pick and mix of all four meats on the plate. Nothing to scare the punters but lacking the pizzazz of the setting, the vast stylish ground floor below the Native Hotel.

Slightly more exciting sounding is access to two-to-share offerings that sit in the normal a la carte – harissa spiced whole chicken, miso glazed fish of the day, 800g tomahawk of Cheshire beef or a whole roasted ‘ras el hanout’ cauliflower. 

Bistrotheque was the initial food and beverage offering when Native created 166 apartments in the Grade 11 listed Victorian warehouse back in. It was soon apparent its quirky comfort food at posh prices formula didn’t transfer well from the East London original, so after six months it was ditched and the 80 cover dining room became Restaurant at CULTUREPLEX (the co-working, arty raison d’etre for the rest of the ground floor). Highlight of this manifestation was a pop-up by the cutting edge restaurant team of Higher Ground (now operating Flawd at New Islington Marina). Its front of house expert, Richard Cossins, famously opened Fera at Claridge’s for Simon Rogan. But that was London and this is Manchester,  where the real culinary frissons are rarely to be found inside hotels. Now pass the horseradish.

Sunday with Sides’ is available every Sunday, with special cocktail offers and live music, from 12.30pm to 8.30pm at The Ducie Street Warehouse, 51 Ducie Street, Manchester, M1 2TP.

Such has been the impact of District, hyper-stylised Oldham Street take on “progressive barbecue cookery and liquid intelligence inspired by a future Bangkok”, that it soared into the Best Newcomer shortlist of the 2021 Manchester Food and Drink Awards just weeks after opening. 

10 Tib Lane, an altogether quieter affair (no synthwave soundtrack), didn’t. It launched a crucial couple of months later and missed the cut.

What do they have in common? Both are sophomore projects of Northern Quarter ramen rivals; in District’s case Danny Collins, in 10 Tib Lane’s Ben Gretton and Tom De Santis. Their new ventures diverge fascinatingly. 

At Tokyo Ramen, pet project of Japanophile duo Collins and Stephanie Chiu, I adored the broth and noodles, but the stark experience erred towards being in a holding cell for Yakuza mobsters. Albeit only for a swift lunch break before parole. 

Two minutes’ walk away Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun was more fun, is more fun, playful of concept, the cocktails good. They are far better at 10 Tib Lane, where new business partner Joe White of Chorlton Bar Henry C can be found manning the bar. French-influenced small plates have upped their game too and the wine and beer offering is cannily chosen.

So what of District? Collins trumpeted pre-launch, in a way of justifying a pricey platform of tasting menus: “We don’t want dining to be a quick in-out job. Restaurants can be a place to spend a whole evening, at a pace that really allows you to relax.”

Visiting early evening, the sole customer for 40 minutes. I couldn’t gauge how mellow an extended stay with a full house might turn out. I didn’t mind the bombardment from the sound system because I had no one to talk to, apart from my excellent server Katie, who offered to write a full brief on each dish and its manifold constituents.

For her sake I was glad I had chosen the simplest menu, the £40 ‘My First Crush’ (“A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies. A chance to begin again in  golden land of opportunity and adventure!” So not really Oldham Street).

As it turned out, with a substantial open kitchen team devoted to my needs, the seven course meal lasted under an hour and a half, which well suited me (with a Modern British Cider tasting head of me in the Green Quarter).

‘The Full Experience’  (“Do questionable things. See things you wouldn’t believe. All moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”) would have cost me £85 for 11 courses. No director’s cut discounts for recognising the Blade Runner quotes, but would the dishes set in my (immediate) future be outlandishly out of this world? The voyage started well.  A ceviche of Cornish wild sea bass tasted as exquisite as it looked, the pearly raw flesh dotted with Thai basil mayo and spiked with gaunt purple yam crisps. Punchy is the word for the pool of nam jim sauce the bass sits on. It’s a sour, salty, sweet amalgam of garlic, fish sauce, coriander root and not too assertive bird’s eye chilli.

Next up, ‘Not Tacos’ is two savoury discs that riff on the T word, one a purple corn tostada topped with nam tok (waterfall  beef) made with seared rib-eye, the other a soft omelette pancake bearing short rib cooked with turmeric and dried spices, southern curry style. It’s a one swallow each. A bit like shots, the hit is in the aftertaste. Just slightly unsatisfying.

Dishes three and four come in tandem, their contrast this time making perfect sense. I shall refer to Katie’s extensive note on this one, which definitely spares my short term memory.

Fire is at the centre of what District is about. That and dystopian lighting in disturbing purple, especially in the downstairs bar. The coals at the end of the kitchen counter offer a more welcoming glow. On them pork coppa shoulder was seared, slivers of it smeared with a tamarind jeaw or dipping sauce that in this instance offers a real umami smack. In beautiful contrast is the accompanying bowl of that under-rated brassica kohlrabi, cooked sous vide, carved into curls. It is dressed with, and I quote, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, shrimp paste, bird’s eye chillies, then mixed with tomatoes candied in fish sauce caramel, crushed peanuts, ‘shrimp floss’ and long beans. It managed to be refreshing and complex.

All was building up to the chicken dish that seemed to constitute a main because it came with a portion or rice cooked in rich chicken stock, topped with crisped chicken skin.

There was an intense broth of coconut and galangal, laced with spring onion oil, that featured shimeji mushrooms and charred sweetcorn which demanded to be mopped up by every grain of rice. And the corn-fed chicken? An elaborate pan-Asian conceit that involved confiting chicken thighs in chicken fat, then removing the bones and pressing the flesh on skewers over coals.

All this was an absolute delight but then the meal tapered off. Massaman curry I always find a mite muddy and it didn’t do any favours for Herdwick hogget rump, slow-cooked then finished on the barbecue. A large minty oba leaf felt extraneous too.

Finally, the dessert called “It was only a dream” was hardly a nightmare but the mango, coconut fudginess was disappointingly bland. An esteemed colleague acutely compared the puffed rice topping to Coco Pops.

These are only tiny quibbles. But with their prices set to rise (up to £50 and £100 respectively) from the start of November and belt-tightening on the winter agenda District may need to refresh the launch menus to maintain its impetus. It’s not quite the Manchester game changer that drew the initial encomiums. There are definite echoes of Pan-Asian places head chef Ben Humphreys (second from right in the line-up) previously worked at – Australasia, the undervalued Tattu and, most closely, Rabbit In The Moon, definitely in decibel/dark decor levels.

The Thai barbecue approach has also led to comparisons with Kiln in Soho, but that has a more authentic jungle feel of raucous sizzle and the ingredients aren’t as polite (see above). Perhaps turn up the heat, District. To quote Roy Batty in Blade Runner: “Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders… burning with the fires of Orc.”

District, 60 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LE.

No, I didn’t succumb in that first lockdown to making my own sourdough. Life’s too fleeting. In the past I’d had more starters than University Challenge… and more flaccid failures. So the pillars of my home loaf baking remained a classic white tin loaf and an Irish sourdough (Richard Corrigan’s tried and tested Gentleman’s Journal recipe with extra treacle).

Sticking with the Irish, I knew a chef in deepest County Cork who rose at 3am every morning to start the daily croissant making process. Five hours later the cute little viennoiseries were sitting in your breakfast table basket, crisp, flakey and buttery. 

Yet which of his guests would have given a thought to the Herculean effort involved in juggling the temperatures of the ‘beurre de tourrage’ (butter block) and the ‘détrempe’ (yeast-leavened dough) as folding and folding created the requisite multiple layers demanded by La Tradition Française?

On occasions I succumb to the convenience of supermarket croissants but there really is no substitute for the real thing. Manchester patisserie chain Bisous Bisous manage the trick, as do Pollen Bakery at the city’s New Islington Marina. The added incentive in the trek there is, after a cappuccino and croissant in the cafe, to carry home the absolute star of the Pollen range – the 28 hour sour, which is made with a blend of white flour, wholemeal flour and rye, each added for nutritional value and flavour. All flours organic and 100 per cent stoneground

The length of the proving process is to allow all the water to fully hydrate the grain which allows it to lock all the nutrients and make it more digestible. The glossy exterior is the evidence of that work having been done, apparently. The only sourdough that has bettered it in my experience is one we discovered at the Wild Flour Bakery at Freestone along California’s Bohemian Highway (I kid you not).

Co-founders Hannah Calvert (she has a croissant tattooed on her arm) and Chris Kelly started up the bakery in late 2016 in a Sheffield Street railway arch near Piccadilly Station before moving to the Marina premises, which allowed them to open their hugely popular café. Now there’ s a fresh Pollen in the offing.

Kampus has hosted cutting edge restaurants Tine and Higher Ground in its ‘Bungalow’, foreground

Let’s ‘Pollinate’ KAMPUS

KAMPUS, Manchester’s self-styled garden neighbourhood of variegated apartment blocks, cultivated by CAPITAL&CENTRIC and HBD, seems to be competing with the rival developers down at Deansgate Square to plant quality food and drink offerings on the doorstep of their new tenants.

After the success of high profile pop-ups Higher Ground and Tine the indie likes of General Stores and Nell’s Pizzeria have signed up for permanent units, but Pollen relocating their pastry team to a Kampus ground floor site is the real coup. Looking out over the ‘tropical’ garden, the Pollen café will offer indoor and outdoor seating and room for workshops and supper clubs. Plus an expanded brunch menu. Opening is planned for early 2022.

It’s too easy to pin ‘Magnificent’ to Obsession but it’s a perfect fit for Northcote’s gourmet festival. For over two decades, with ever-starrier line-ups of guest chefs, it has lit up the depths of January. Last year, alas, the lights went out as the shadow of Covid cancelled all hospitality.

Now it’s storming back, ambition undimmed, from January 21 to February 6 2022 at the Michelin-starred Ribble Valley stalwart. Caution remains with an absence of global big hitters but this is more than made up for by 16 chefs, with 15 stars under their belt, from the UK and Ireland.

In announcing the cast of Obsession 22 Northcote exec chef Lisa Allen was quick to point out the big plus of this approach and I’m inclined to agree. After a torrid 18 months and more for the industry, and with staffing and supply headaches that won’t go away let’s celebrate ‘our own’. Their world class quality but also their energy and durability in the circumstances.

Not that there’s anything remotely parochial about the schedule below, tickets for which go on sale on Tuesday, September 28. It ranges from the high profile Michelin likes (above) of Matt Abe (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), Simon Rogan (L’Enclume) to Obsession newcomers Roberta Hall McCarron from Edinburgh and Jordan Bailey from Co KIldare (below) alongside familiar telly faces Tom Kerridge and James Martin. Bailey, who runs two Michelin-starred Aimsir with his wife Majken, particularly intrigues me. Once a key part of the Restaurant Sat Bains team, he was later head chef at 3-star Michelin Maaemo in Oslo before they moved to Ireland in 2018.

As is traditional, Lisa Allen kicks off the 14 days of dinners on January 21 and she returns for a formidable female Grande Finale on February, when she teams up with Monica Galette and Nieves Barragan Mohacho.

The lineup: 

  • Fri Jan 21: Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 22: Matt Abe, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London (3 stars) 
  • Sun Jan 23: Mickael Viljanen, Chapter One (previously The Greenhouse), Dublin  
  • Mon Jan 24: Jordan Bailey, Aimsir, County Kildare (2 stars) 
  • Tue Jan 25: Simon Rogan & Tom Barnes, L’Enclume, Cumbria (2 stars) 
  • Wed Jan 26: Roberta Hall McCarron, The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh 
  • Thu Jan 27: Alex Bond, Alchemilla, Nottingham (1 star) 
  • Fri Jan 28: Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 29: Hrishikesh Desai, Gilpin Hotel & Lakehouse, Cumbria (1 star) 
  • Sun Jan 30: Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides, Newcastle (1 star)  
  • Wed Feb 2: James Martin, celebrity chef and TV presenter 
  • Thu Feb 3: Tom Kerridge, The Hand & Flowers, Marlow (2 stars) 
  • Fri Feb 4: Atul Kochhar, Atul Kochhar Restaurants, London  
  • Sun Feb 6, Grande Finale feat Monica Galetti, Mere, London; Nieves Barragan Mohacho, Sabor, London (1 star); Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 

Lisa said; “Obsession 22 is particularly special. After having to cancel this year’s festival due to the pandemic and with the hospitality industry taking such a hit, we’re all ready to put on a show of culinary brilliance. This year it was only right to bring all corners of Britain and Ireland together, focusing on the incredible talent that we have on our shores, but still with an injection of different styles of cooking, different regional ingredients and different flavours. We have some great emerging chefs like Alex Bond, and much-loved household names, as well as some of the UK’s best female chefs, joining us.”  

Tickets for Obsession 22 go on sale on September 28 and are priced at £160 per person, including a Louis Roederer Champagne and canapé reception, five course menu, coffee and petit fours. A specially paired wine flight can be added, starting from around £65 per person. For more information visit this link.  VIP hospitality packages are available to book for six or more people in the Louis Roederer Room or at the Chef’s Table, from £2,350 + VAT. A few lucky (and swift) guests might be able to book one of Northcote’s 25 boutique bedrooms. Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. Here’s my review of Northcote’s five-course tasting menu.

As I pen this al fresco appreciation of conjoined Ramsbottom restaurants Levanter and Baratxuri, both are preparing to re-open inside for the first time in many months. More choices again. Inside or out? It was difficult enough pre-Pandemic to pick which of the Botham family’s Iberian destinations to drop in on. 

Latterly (it’s only relative) it was Baratxuri’s bar with its flurry of Basque pintxos that won out, but the pedestrian conversion of Square Street meant a joint reservation system and shared menu outside. So was a sunny Saturday lunchtime under the awnings the best of both worlds? Definitely.

The glory of Baratxuri, writ even larger at its Manchester Escape To Freight Island site, is Joe Botham’s way with fire. Yes, more wood-fired grills (check out my Heady Basque Mix of Woodsmoke and Wild Turbot). How then could we resist, from the asador, the Galician Xuleton, giant rib steaks from 10-year-old Capricion de Oro oxen dry aged for a minimum of 45 days? 

There was a raft of on the day prices, dependent on weight from £51 to £80. We asked for the £60 for three of us. We were just charged the £51 for a serving that was easily enough – after a succession of support act pintxos. The txuleton (bone-in cut from former dairy cattle) came simply with padron peppers and dressed tomatoes.

The menu description uses the word ‘malty’. Not a word I’ve used about steak, but now I’m a convert. The dish was stupendous. Well rested, the charred flesh had a slight chew to it but was intense in flavour, the salt enhancing this rather than distracting.

What else did we have? Also from the wood-fired oven a tranche of that favoured Spanish fish, hake done a la gallega, ie Galician style, which involves spuds, garlic, chorizo and, in this instance, pea emulsion (£12).

Chorizo featured again inside the Baratxuri bar favourite, txistorra sausage rolls (£4.50), but this time took second place behind another snack at the same price, the sobrasada pintxo. Here Mallorcan soft cheese and PIco blue cheese are melted on tostadas with honey and walnuts.

We had started with an £8 plate of jamon serrano plus bread, oil and balsamic and salmorjo for dipping. I’m glad I saved some bread to mop up the goo of ember-roasted scallop, salt cod whipped potato and Iberico lardo – a clever little dish, again £8. Coliflor bravas (£5.50) hit the spot too.

The three of us shared a bottle of supple, complex Madai Mencia (£35), the great Northern Spanish red that isn’t Rioja and finally with the txuleton, which we knew we had to wait 40 minutes for, some actual Rioja. A belter of a Rioja at £8.40 the glass. The Carpess crianza was a spicy, cherryish dude, cloaked in the smoothest of oak overcoats. Bravo.

Levanter, 10, Square St, Ramsbottom BL0 9AT.

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival kicks off on Thursday, September 16 with the full raucous backing at the Cathedral Gardens Hub of Mr Wilson’s Secondliners (above). As usual the Festival is packed with events and should profit from a huge public appetite for some kind of tasty ‘new normal’. Here is my choice of five very special MFDF opportunities to enjoy yourself and support a resurgent hospitality industry…

Bull & Bear Festival Hub Takeover, Cathedral Gardens, 7pm, Mon, Sep 20. £55. 

Tom Kerridge’s posh operation in the Stock Exchange Hotel will will be bringing the pub to the hub on Monday 20 September for a three-course feast with music, too. Expect potted Loch Duart salmon with apple jelly and cucumber chutney to start and a braised beef and cheese pie with English mustard for your main and a pud of banana custard with dates, pistachio and honeycomb. The Festival Beer Bar is there to add to the pub experience.

MFDF x Eat Well Dinner, Mana, Blossom Street. Tue Sep 21. £200.

This is the big one – a collab between some of the city’s finest chefs at its only Michelin-starred establishment, all to raise money for Eat Well, a social enterprise tackling food poverty in Manchester. Participating are Mana’s own Simon Martin, Mary-Ellen McTague (The Creameries), Ben Humphries (District), Eddie Shepherd (Walled Garden) and Anna Søgaard (Erst), each preparing one course. Tickets go on sale Friday, September 10. 25 spots only are available. Book here.

Elnecot x It’s Alive Supper Club, Blossom Street. 6pm onwards. Tue Sep 21. £65.

Much-loved Ancoats pioneer Elnecot are joined by their wine suppliers It’s Alive for a menu inspired by the British Isles. Natural wines will be paired with the likes of a Yorkshire hogget broth, a surf and turf and a rendang doughnut.

Tast Meets The Macallan, Tast, King Street. 6.30pm Thu Sep 23. £125. 

Exec chef Paco Perez and head chef Julià Castelló have designed a five-course gastronomic tasting menu that includes octopus, oysters, autumn rice with mushrooms, cheese and figs plus poussin, beetroot and truffle. There’ll also be one limited-edition Macallan whisky that pairs with this feast. Choose Barcelona but also choose Scotland via Manchester. Choose a ticket that costs £125.

Sustainable Wine Evening, Open Kitchen Cafe & Bar. 7pm, Thu Sep 23. £28.

Launching a run of seasonal events, Open Kitchen, inside the People’s History Museum, showcase a selection of wines from the Bolney Estate in Kent, a winery known for its sustainable land management since 1972. Taste six wines across the evening (I particularly recommend the Lychgate red) with table snacks and a wider small plates menu available to purchase.

Check out our preview of MFDF – Manchester’s Biggest Chippy Tea Is In The Bag and Your Vote Counts for Everything for a full list of MFDF Awards nominees. For the latest updates on the programme (Sept 16-27) and to vote for your favourites off the shortlists visit the MFDF website.

I love the shaded downstairs bar at Kala in Manchester. It’s a place of assignation. You just slip in off King Street and slide onto a tall stool. Open a copy of The Times at the obituaries section to signal you are here to the swarthy man in the Crombie three seats away. There is information to be shared in covert fashion. The fate of nations may hang in the balance over a glass of Sicilian Catarratto. Even that name is suggestive of subterfuge.

OK, it’s called fantasising. As I await the October publication of a posthumous John le Carré novel I have daydreamed back into the treacherous world of George Smiley and his Russian nemesis, Karla. Just lose the R. The swarthy contact is an old PR pal I’m meeting for lunch and urgent post-lockdown gossip. He may know where the bodies are buried but he’s not telling. 

There’s a table awaiting us upstairs at this Manchester link in Gary Usher’s Elite Bistros chain. You can’t avoid mentioning the patron; it’s like failing to affix ‘Putin’s’ to ‘Russia’. Inimitably he’s been back on social media recently, defending one corner of his empire against some bolshie customer while in June he re-emphasised his crowdfunding genius by raising over £150,000 in 24 hours to create a catering arm for his company.

As you can gather I’m a fan of Usher and his bistros and I’m glad they’ve held it all together during the pandemic. I’ve dined at four out of the six and never had a remotely unsatisfying experience.

This last time is no different. The set menus are pricier than of yore – three courses for £40, two for £35 – but worth it. There’ s a canny continuity about the Elite food offering in the hands of exec chef Richard Sharples. The unsurpassable wobbly custard tart is nowhere to be seen, alas, but the stalwart featherblade of beef glows out of the menu sheet and has to be my main. The swarthy one take a punt on the plaice.

First, though, the starters. Mine is an uncompromising looking dish of squid rings two ways, au naturel (encasing charred aubergine, lemon and confit garlic) and blackened on a red pepper sauce. Perfectly Med. My ‘sinister companion’ finds equal joy in the creamiest puddle of burrata hosting cubes of pickled kohlrabi with a blackened spring onion and fennel seed dressing.

The surprisingly fleshy plaice is grilled whole, then dressed with salted lemon butter. Watercress and straw potatoes are ideal simple accompaniments and there’s also ‘leek ash’, which is superfluous.

Which brings us finally to the signature bistro dish that is as magnificent as ever – the featherblade, here partnered with ruby beetroot ketchup and parmesan truffle chips. Oh and a summery bottle of Jean-Marc Burgaud Beaujolais.

So what is the secret of the Kala featherblade?

We went undercover to find out. Actually we Googled it. First you need the right cut from a grass-fed beast – a long flat muscle tucked in behind the shoulder blade, also known as flat iron. A line of connective tissue runs through the featherblade’s centre; cooked down this creates a gelatinous texture that generates great gravy and consistent texture. The blade is best slow-cooked whole.

The Elite Bistro chefs braise it for up to eight hours in chicken stock and red wine, along with a mirepoix of onion, carrot, celery, leek, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. To create a sauce they stick the mirepoix in a huge pan with a load of chicken bones and simmer overnight. Next day the liquid is strained, then reduced with red wine until it’s a rich, glossy sauce. 

It’s not finished there. Usher revealed the final secret touch in an interview: “We take the blade and put it in a pan of this sauce. Then literally someone stands there spooning the sauce over the meat, again and again, for 20 minutes. What happens is, as the sauce reduces, it’s getting thicker and stickier. Every time you put it on, it’s creating a layer. That’s where the sticky, naughty dirtiness of it comes from.”

Truly evil, just like Karla.

Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ. 0161 839 3030. Reservations 0800 160 1811.

One trip down Manchester memory lane for me is to check my Bhangra Beatnikz beer cocktail recipe remains on the Dishoom website.

Still there. It won best cocktail at the last Too Many Critics charity dinner held in the city with seven food writers battling it out in the Manchester Hall kitchens of the newly arrived Indian restaurant group. It was all about raising money for Action Against Hunger. If you must know, my hake moilee was also awarded best dish – mainly thanks to copious amounts of coconut milk and head chef Naved’s team holding my hand.

The date? Monday March 18. The last time I crossed the threshold of Dishoom’s latest loving homage to the Irani cafes of old Bombay (now Mumbai). Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were almost 400 of these cafés at their peak in the 1960s. Now fewer than 30 remained before Covid. Who knows what the future holds for them?

“Their faded elegance welcomed all: courting couples, sweaty taxi-wallahs, students, artists and lawyers. The cafés broke down barriers by bringing people together over food and drink. Bombay was more open and welcoming for their existence.”

That warm hospitality applied equally to Dishoom Manchester – even if the ‘faded’ bit was a mite more studied – until the lockdown closures.

During those barren, frightening periods I kept my passion for Dishoom’s food alive by cooking from the pages of Dishoom ‘From Bombay With Love’ (Bloomsbury, £26). With its evocative photographs and a retro design, it’s arguably the most vivid and elegant cookbook of recent times. Not just about food, it was also an eccentric travelogue about a city that has captivated me on both my visits.

I cooked from it a lot, even essaying their signature black daal via a short cut recipe that didn’t require 24 hours in the pot and much sturdy stirring. To attempt their bacon naan (pictured above with Ghanesh) seemed sacrilege, though. The home kit for that groundbreaker did tempt me, but I never ordered. Now finally when all the Dishooms – in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh – are thankfully open again, I couldn’t resist a home delivery ‘taster’ before resuming direct Dishoom fan duties. No, not as a punkah wallah, just a punter.

What a line-up that arrived on our doorstep with full instructions

OUR DISHOOM HOME FEAST

Feast is the right word, a well balanced selection of Dishoom classics: House Black Daal, Mattar Paneer, Lamb Sheekh Kababs, Murgh Malai, Bhel, Kachumber, and Tawa Rotis. To accompany it there’s a bottle of Mango Lassi, and for pud a sweet, creamy Gulkand Mess. A very attractive line-up.

The whole assemblage held its own against my favourite menu kits – from Northcote, Hakkasan and Clays Hyderabadi Kitchen. Few real kitchen skills were required. Accompanying printed instructions were clear (I didn’t bother with the videos).  Preparation time was posited at 45 minutes, which was about right. They never warn you of the washing up time after!

Trying to balance grilling the lamb (Sheekh Kababs) and chicken Murgh Malai) with stove top cooking the Tawa Rotis was the only bit that got me hot under the collar (oh for a couple of chilled Bhangra Beatnikz at my elbow). Standout dish was the paneer with peas, but all the dishes felt restaurant standard and authentic, not the cobbled together, outsourced disappointments of certain home deliveries. Not naming names.

The whole package costs £60, to serve two to three people. We augmented it with our own saffron rice and a Sri Lankan coconut dal (Meera Sodha recipe) to ensure it fed four. It was more than ample. Leftovers? A stylish Dishoom tea towel and four metal skewers (for the lamb and chicken) we shall treasure.

Buy Home Feast here. You can also upgrade your kit to include a bottle of Int3gral3 Italian natural sparkling wine for an extra £20. For every kit Dishoom donate a meal to charity partner Akshaya Patra.

Summer 2021 marks two milestones in the post-industrial bubble that is Kelham Island. Cutting edge restaurant Jöro has expanded beyond its upcycled shipping container base to open a four-room boutique hotel nearby, complete with chef’s table, while the homely pub at the heart of this buzzing urban community is celebrating 40 years of just being The Fat Cat.

A maverick umbilical cord links that almost bucolic cask beer mecca, whose in-house brewery spawned the iconic Pale Rider ale, to the sleek steel (well it is Sheffield) Krynkl complex where chef Luke French has transformed the city’s culinary expectations over the past four years. It reached No.34 in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards (announced on August 16).

Post lockdown it seemed a good time to visit both pioneering venues. So a tram from the station (after a Thornbridge Jaipur refresher, naturally at the Sheffield Tap on Platform 1B), then across the busy Shalesmoor roundabout to a suddenly hushed warren of backstreets to establish the respective locations.

Only disappointment of a dazzling day, the Kelham Island Tavern had been forced to shut

A detour might have been in order, too, to the Kelham Island Tavern, arguably the city’s best craft beer pub venue but – sign of the times – there was a Covid-closure note on the door. Still the pre-amble ramble did allow me to soak in the atmosphere of a district that defines industrial heritage and cool renewal…

Renewal, of course, means creatives clustering in shiny new build apartments or brick-heavy warehouse conversions with a casual bar/dining scene springing up to service the influx. And occasionally big hitters show up such as Mana in Ancoats, Brat in Shoreditch or Casamia on the Bristol waterfront. Sheffield has its own contender…

JÖRO

One slight tremor as I entered the penumbral interior, the normal 50 covers reduced as a Covd-safe measure. Would the widening horizons of Luke French and his wife and business director, Stacey Sherwood-French impact on the core operation? Not jut th hotel project but also street food spin-offs. Fear not this was an outstanding £65 eight course lunch that ate up three joyful hours. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the building, shaped from 29 shipping containers but I am of a serving staff that included one who had a sake qualification (thanks for the New Mountain Junmai recommendation) and another who knew his way round the new Spanish wine frontiers of Ribeira Sacra and Sierra de Gredos.

Chef Luke has previously expressed his desire to “find something similar to L’Enclume or The Black Swan at Oldstead, somewhere rural we can forage in and with a smallholding to grow our own ingredients.” For the moment he’s as urban as it gets, albeit with some amazing rural suppliers. Just a Michelin Bib for the moment but the food I encountered across my tasting menu surely deserve a star. Manchester’s own Mana deserves a second, but that’s a whole other matter.

Jöro Highlights? Virtually everything, from an early introduction to Chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese custard here flavoured with smoked eel, a tiny tranche of which also featured alongside salmon roe and pancetta. Wortley wagyu rump in a tartare with celeriac and mustard was less groundbreaking but equally wonderful. I should have asked about the Wortley provenance (it’s the fabled beef of Japan but reared in South Yorkshire’s grasslands); I didn’t make the same mistake with Doncaster peas. “You’ll taste them and know why,” was the enigmatic response. Their yoking with mint and lamb fat yielded more detailed exegesis. The key to the dish was ‘lamb garum’ where lamb mince and koji had been given 10 weeks in a water bath to create a fermented base for this incredible dish. For more on garum read my recent article.

What I really loved about the whole experience was a straightforward punch of flavours, whether a pure tranche of Cornish cod on a bed of smoked haddock and creme fraiche sauce or among the desserts the stand-out strawberries with lemon verbena and organic yoghurt. You get the dedication to our own raw materials filtered through an appropriated  Japanese and Norse (hence the name) sensibility.

Stays and JÖRO Packages can be booked online via this link.

THE FAT CAT

Neither of my two destinations is on the island proper, man-made in the 13th by diverting water from the River Don to power medieval mills. So a distant seed sown for the Industrial Revolution proper, the catalyst for which in Sheffield was the opening of John Crowley’s Iron Foundry in 1829, tapping into river power abundant coal and iron ore. 

If you want to get the full story visit the Kelham Island Museum, which was created 40 years ago. You can see it prize exhibition for free because the only Bessemer steel converter still in existence stands in front. This egg-shaped black hulk quickly revolutionised 19th century steel production.

Thirsty work, the industry in its heyday and pubs like The Alma just down the street of that name existed to slake those forge-driven thirsts. Then came the long slow decline of the Steel City. From the Seventies onwards recession and dereliction battered Kelham.

It took a brave man to acquire the Alma, change its name to the ironic Fat Cat and start brewing his own exceptional beer in the yard. 

That was the grand plan of Dave Wickett, the new co-owner. The pub introduced Sheffield to a cavalcade of guest beers and by 1990 when Dave took sole control he created his own Kelha Island Brewery in the beer garden. The pub survived flooding in 2007; the level is charted on the exterior alongside that of the The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864. It survived Dave’s early death and is still brewing in premises across the street.

In 2004 their flagship beer Pale Rider was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at The Great British Beer Festival. It has hardly been off the hand pull ever since, though a recent month’s hiatus perturbed devotees.

Matthew Curtis, in his highly recommended new survey, Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99) descrIbes Pale Rider thus: “There was some malt character in the flavour, soft and candy-floss sweet, but only fleetingly. This allowed a crescendo of hop to build with notes of candied orange peel to the fore, but they were restrained throughout with a balanced bittersweet finish forming at the end of this orchestral flourish. 

A touch flowery but a good summary of my ‘aperitif’ experience before lunch over at Jöro. Old meets new in one memorable Kelham Island afternoon.

There’s a fascinating interview in hospitality bible The Staff Canteen, where chef/patron Steven Smith explains how he has adapted The Freemasons at Wiswell for these difficult staffing times. 

We hadn’t read it when we rolled up for lunch at this exemplary gastropub on the fringes of the Ribble Valley. In retrospect it gives a valuable insight into our experience – which was very rewarding. Step forward the Wild Boar Bolognese, Hand Rolled Beetroot Rigatoni, Pickled Walnuts, Aged Parmesan that had me squealing with excitement.

A complimentary Isle of Wight Tomato Tea with a herby whipped curd cone was a delight

It’s a new starter on the remarkable value set lunch (£22 for two courses, £27 for three, also available early evening). ‘Cutting your cloth’ isn’t usually a benchmark for improvement but on the lunch evidence a serious kitchen rethink has paid off.

Steven Smith has adapted his regime to make the kitchen run more smoothly and help his staff’s well-being

He explains in the article: “We always were very mise en place heavy and then service was kept smooth, crisp and clean. but now we have more staff working Monday to Friday doing preparation than we have staff doing Saturday Sundays actually cooking.”

Not only has this helped them redress staffing issues… “We’re also cooking better than we ever have, we’ve slimmed down the menu, we’ve really thought about simplifying a lot of dishes and it’s made the food better.

“The food still has the same Freemasons touch and feel, we haven’t turned away from that, we’re still using all the same sauces we’ve always used and the concept of the dishes is the same, we’ve just refined it and taken a lot of stuff off the plate that didn’t need to be there.”

You’d have to road test the a la carte to properly confirm this. Certainly in the past Steven has seemed to be driven by Michelin aspirations and it has seemed unfair that many of his peers below the Freemasons in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list have secured a star. 

To celebrate 10 years at Wiswell, in summer 2019 Smith took the place up a notch with a big investment. Four luxury bedrooms were attached plus a state of the art kitchen as the hub of a new dining experience called ‘Mr Smith’s’… Here’s my glowing report on our stay for Manchester Confidential.

Our return is more back to basics, but what basics. A running thread through the meal is the vivid presence of in-season peas and broad beans. ‘Summer greens’ feature in a velouté starter and a complimentary Isle of Wight Tomato Tea (with its cute cones of whipped curd and herbs). Equally chlorophyll-rich are the simple accompaniments to a roast salmon loin – samphire, dill and an exquisite green forager’s sauce.

French style peas (not mushy) form a base with a mint sauce for my wife’s Suet Pudding with an unctuous filling of Herdwick Lamb Shoulder, while my rival main dunks Loin of Whitby Cod in a sharp vegetable and herb nage that’s a whole intense harvest of those peas and broad beans. No greens were apparent in that debutant Wild Boar, but it was the true star of the show. 

This half portion of chocolate device was enough – it was decadently rich

We stuck with the two courses but then shared a hard-to-resist Dark Chocolate Delice (£12.95) from the a la carte, a blackcurrant sorbet and cherries giving it a deconstructed Black Forest feel.

The Freemasons Menu, a model of deconstruction in it own right? We like it.

Freemasons at Wiswell, 8 Vicarage Fold, Wiswell, nr Clitheroe, BB7 9DF. 01254 822218.