This website isn’t given to spoiler alerts. So let’s call it an informed guess that on Caroline Martins’ trio of canapés, pictured above, may feature tonight (Tuesday, February 8) in Great British Menu 2022 as the weeklong North West Heat kicks off. They’ve refreshed (ie purged) the old judges in favour of telegenic Tom Kerridge and Nisha Katona, both of whom I know and respect, so no gripes there. There’s also one Ed Gamble whose food podcast has passed me by. Whether the three of them can inject life into a hackneyed formula we shall see by the time the victorious competing chefs stumble over the finishing line in late March, having earned the right to cook at the Banquet.
The ‘North West’ chefs are a geographically confusing quartet. In the past we’ve had Mancunians Mary-Ellen McTague and Adam ‘Golden Empire Dessert’ Reid representing the region where their restaurants were (Aumbry and The French) and this year, the second running, Dave Critchley is the flag carrier for his native Liverpool, albeit as head chef at Chinese Lu Ban. In contrast 2002 also features two local lads, Stevie and Sam, plying their trade respectively in Darlington and Devon, and more exotically Caroline Martins, who hails from Barretos in deepest Brazil. I wonder if Postman Pat or Z Cars ever made it to her native country. The GBM theme this year is ‘100 Years of British Broadcasting’.
I caught up with Caroline in deepest Ancoats at her residency at the Blossom Street Social, where those exquisitely beautiful canapés were the prelude to a parade of playful, adventurous small dishes that define her self-styled Sao Paulo Project. So colourful they almost make David Attenborough’s Green Planet look drab. Ingredient-wise cassava, papaya and açaí rub shoulders with our own native salmon, scallops and Cumbrian pork. It’s a new world away from the formulaic likes of carnivore-centric Fazenda and Bem Brasil. Skewered objects of desire don’t hold a candle to the Martin menu. Literally. For her major concession to meat somehow links to her pre-chef incarnation as a scientist.
For a fascinating account of her globe-trotting life as a plasma physicist, who endured Brazilian Masterchef before success at the Cordon Bleu School and in Michelin kitchens, finally settling in Britain read my Manchester Confidential colleague Kelly Bishop’s in depth PROFILE.
At Blossom Street the bread course that followed those canapés wasn’t about the Calabresa sausage flavoured brioche rolls with a spread of caramelised onion butter (£7.30). No it was the innovative technique used to create a flaming, edible, rosemary- scented candle out of beef rump cap dripping. Another herb, lovage, colours the moat of melted fat to dip your rolls into.
It’s quite a statement after the delicacy of a waffle cone encasing chicken liver and açaí (palm) parfait with a gel of catuaba (apparently it’s an aphrodisiac herb infusion); a tartlet of locally smoked salmon brazil nuts and Brazilian style cream cheese, topped with `Platt Field edible petals and Exmoor caviar; and finally, demonstrating seriously high end technique, a vivid green ‘flower’ composed of Crofton cheer, heart of palm and parsley mousse, atop a pure of pickled walnut and passion fruit purée a crouton of Holy Grain bread. Gloriously different and a gift at £6.70.
All this is coming out of minuscule kitchen never purposed for full restaurant service. It will be Caroline’s home for the rest of 2022. Such has been her impact Ben Stephenson’s wine-led operation has extended what was initially meant to be a two month residency.
The chef herself, a bundle of creative energy, is impressed by her local suppliers. Not just Holy Grain. Meat from the Butchers Quarter and WH Frost and, naturally, their Chorlton neighbours, Out of The Blue, who supplied the hand-dived scallops for our next course – pure Brazilian umami on a cassava mousseline with a scattering of peppery dehydrated papaya seed (£6.50).
Next up we shared the obvious main, a deconstructed version of the only Brazilian dish I’d been fully aware of. Here a thinner than expected Feijoada black bean stew was for dunking with buttered sourdough crumpets that accompany slices of pink pork fillet, substantial spirals of crackling dusted with collard green powder. As a counterpoint to all this porkiness there are salad leaves from Cinderwood, the Cheshire market garden, co-run by Higher Ground chef Joseph Otway. The leave are brought to vivid life by one of the best dressings I’ve ever tasted, made from lime and Manchester honey.
There is a seriously tempting cheese option of a baked Tunworth cheese to feed four; instead we shared a £12 British selection of Baron Bigod, Wigmore, Cumberland farmhouse and smoked Lancashire, given its ‘twist’ (what is the Portuguese for tracklement?) by partnering with mango and passion fruit chutney, spiced banana compote and a polyspore mushroom relish, the fungi sourced from a specialist grower in Altrincham. The biscuits are made from cassava starch. “Cassava is for Brazilians what potatoes are for the British,” Caroline told us.
If this is all a bit fusion, then her take on a classic Brazilian dessert, Romeu & Julieta feels as authentic as it is spectacular in its own visual homage to the Fly Agaric mushroom. The key ingredients are guava jam and Minas cheese made by a Brazilian couple, th only producers in the UK. The base is a parmesan genoise sponge, then a guava parfait and the cheese is coated in a guava jelly, then sprinkled with a crumble created from lime and chocolate specially commissioned from the city’ bet chocolatier, Isobel at Dormouse. More edible flowers to complete the idyll on a plate. I doubted it all would work it did triumphantly.
With the supply chain of local ingredients you’v seen employed throughout the menu and 26 regions from the fifth largest country in the world, all with their own culinary contributions there look no way the Sao Paolo Project is likely to run out of steam. It should remain among the most vital restaurant arrivals of 2022.
How did Caroline get on n the Great British Menu? Now that would be telling.
Caroline Martins’ Sao Paolo Project is at Blossom Street Social, 51 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AJ.