Tag Archive for: Didsbury

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.