Tag Archive for: exhibition

Some new destinations generate high expectations. Hence the enthusiasm with which I greeted Exhibition. Not just because it is heartening to see a historic Manchester edifice (home to a functional Pizza Express in its least interesting incarnation) given a stylish makeover; the presence of three quality indie food operators alongside a slick bar operation promised to set it apart from more canteen-like places chasing that food hall pot of gold.

Before this 400-capacity venue opens to the public on Saturday, November 12, I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of what’s on offer from OSMA, Caroline Martins and Baratxuri. While not neglecting a drinks offering headed up by Manchester Union Lager alongside smart wine and cocktail options. This was by special, lavish invitation only, so no way of gauging what the overall ‘live’ experience will be like. If that lives up to the parade of dishes served to us then Exhibition is a significant new player. a further bonus… it is dog-friendly throughout.

Here is a link to the lunch menu; and this is what’s on offer for dinner.

I’ve been a fan of Basque-inspired Baratxuri since its inception and over the years I’ve guzzled my share of Rubia Gallega Txuleton, bone-in rib steak from Galician dairy cattle aged over 50 days. At Exhibition £75 will get you 1kg’s worth served blue with fire-roasted new potatoes and tomato salad.

Another speciality of chef/founder Joe Botham also features. Rodaballo a la Parilla (£55) is a whole wild turbot grilled over ember and served with whippd pil-pil. Follow my turbot capital trail in Northern Spain here.

Simpler, less expensive dishes on the menu will satisfy equally well – the likes of immaculately sourced anchovies, the stickiest of ribs and scallops in the shell.

There’s a more compact menu from the offshoot of Scandi-influenced Michelin-rated OSMA in Prestwich, creation of Sofie Stoermann-Naess and Danielle Heron and. The name is an amalgam of duo’s respective home towns of Oslo and Manchester. My Manchester Confidential colleague Lucy Tomlinson gave it 16/20 in her review.

Priced similarly to its turbot rival across the dining rom, their whole cooked lobster is another huge temptation. They have a way with seafood. Check out their exquisite sashimi.

I’ve been a regular at Caroline Martins’ Sao Paulo Project pop-up at Ancoats’ Blossom Street Social. Her foray to Exhibition takes her away from tasting menus to a more stripped down approach, while still fusing Brazilian culinary traditions with cannily sourced local ingredients. Still, she couldn’t resist bringing with her a smaller version of her ‘splash hit’ choc pudding party piece I’ve written about before. My tip: don’t miss her Carlingford oyster with passion fruit sorbet.

Exhibition, St George’s House, 56 Peter Street, Manchester M2 3NQ.

While we await the eventual unveiling of a Manchester Town Hall fit for 21st century purpose we can welcome Exhibition bar/food hall, a more modest repurposing of a nearby building on Museum Street that is part of the rich heritage of the city centre. Just look at the glorious Art Nouveau facade of St George’s House, the dragon slayer celebrated by a terracotta version of Donatello’s sculpture. 

Once home to the YMCA, it was previously the site of the Peterloo Massacre and the city’s first Natural History Museum, whose most bizarre incumbent was Hannah Beswick, the ‘Manchester Mummy’, This wealthy 18th century woman with a pathological fear of premature burial asked for her body after death to be embalmed and kept above ground to be periodically checked for signs of life.

The signs of life at Exhibition are far more encouraging with the announcement of a wholly appealing trinity of independent food kitchens across its 6,000sqft space alongside two bars and dedicated exhibition spaces for local artists, all set to open this November. Its creators already run the coffee shop/wine bar Haunt in the building.

With all due respect, the arriving Osma, Caroline Martins and Baratxuri are in a different league. More enticing than the line-up at Society, down the road next to the Bridgewater Hall, or at the newly opened New Century Hall. A beer offering headed up by Manchester Union Lager suggests the 400 capacity venue also has the nearby Albert’s Schloss in its sights.

So what to expect foodwise from Exhibition?

Admission: I’ve never made it to the Scandi-influenced, Michelin Guide rated Osma in Prestwich despite glowing reports all round. Baratxuri, though has been on my regular radar ever since this Basque fire cookery fave sprang from big brother Levanter in Ramsbottom in 2015. It has since pushed its boundaries with city residencies at Escape to Freight Island and more recently at Kampus. The infectious, innovative skills of Brazilian Caroline Martins have been a more recent addition to Manchester’s foodscape. As the Great British Menu chef’s Sao Paulo Project pop-up nears its close at Blossom Street Social, Exhibition looks to offer a further showcase for some of the city’s most exotic ingredients.

OSMA during the day will serve open sandwiches with fillings such as cured Scottish salmon, golden beetroots, spinach and mustard, or rump of beef with onion jam, rocket and parmesan, all alongside fresh salads and hearty soups. In the evening, there will be new small plates such as Avruga caviar pots with toasted brioche, a sashimi plate served with caper and shallot sauce, whole lobster (above) with herb butter or a dish of roasted and pickled beetroots with raspberry and rose.

BARATXURI will offer sharing plates such as Capricho Oro’ Txuleton, a 1kg bone-in rib steak, from the Asado oven alongside fire-roasted short rib with crushed garlic chickpeas and pomegranate molasses salsa plus raciones of boquerones and Jamon Iberico de Bellota and an extensive range of pintxos at lunchtime. 

THE SAO PAULO BISTRO promises a more relaxed spin on her Brazilian-British fusion with local suppliers at the heart of the new menu. Caroline will work closely with Platt Fields Market Garden, Dormouse Chocolates, Northern Cure, The Flat Baker and much more. Menu highlights include hand-dived scallops with creamy cassava sauce, Sao Paulo steak sandwich made with Lancashire ribeye and Garstang blue sauce, and a showstopper chocolate dessert using liquid nitrogen. My tip: don’t miss her Carlingford oyster with passion fruit sorbet.

The drinks offering also looks a winner. General manager Gethin Jones has masterminded spectacular cocktail offerings at the likes of Cottonopolis, Edinburgh Castle and Ducie Street Warehouse, while a a dedicated rotational line for Manchester breweries such as Sureshot, Cloudwater and Pomona sends out all the right signals. Topping that, the main bar will be the first in the city to offer Manchester Union straight from in-venue tanks. There’ll be wine on draught, too, with high quality Verdejo promised and by the bottle and glass an emphasis on low intervention wine.

After dark, Exhibition will transform into a late night bar with DJs, live singers and instrumentalists taking centre stage. Expect an eclectic mix of genres and a roster of local and international DJs, every Wednesday-Sunday. Seven dedicated areas will see a new local artist exhibiting their work every season.

How memorable the morning I came away from Manchester Art Gallery clutching a packet of sea kale seeds from the gallery shop. I also carried with me newly purchased copies of Derek Jarman’s Garden and the polymath artist’s Modern Nature, the first an illustrated memoir of how he created his unique garden in the challenging terrain of Dungeness, Kent, the second his journals from January 1989 onwards, meshing his horticultural project inexorably with the AIDS-related complications that would eventually claim his life eight years later.

Derek Jarman Protest! is a remarkable retrospective of a multifarious creative career, on until April 10 2022 (free but you must book a slot). Alongside, from January 30, the 80th anniversary of his birth, all 11 of his feature films and a further 11 shorts will be shown as part of the collaborative Derek Jarman at HOME season at the city’s First Street arts venue.

 The whole package is the first time in 20 years the diverse strands of Jarman’s practice – as painter, writer, avant-garde filmmaker, set-designer, gardener, pop video innovator, gay rights champion, political activist – have been brought together. In truth, I’ve never hugely warmed to his cinematic output, even with the luminous presence of Tilda Swinton (pictured below in Caravaggio, my favourite because I love the artist) alongside a still from challenging final work Blue.

In contrast Jarman’s late return to painting, inspired by the jewels inside a seemingly barren landscape and in response to the emotional aridity of the Thatcher years, is sublime. So too his set designs. His writings will also last as a poignant record of what it was like to be a homosexual in times of persecution and plague. And then there is that garden… 

At the exhibition, to get to the apparent serenity of of a huge wall portraying a bucolic Prospect Cottage – albeit against its backdrop of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station – you have to pass through the most politicised aspects of Protest!. 

Here’ll you’ll find dark, deathly ‘Assemblages’ such as ‘Mrs Thatcher’s Lunch’, where the cutlery is stained with blood and scratched into the surface are the words ‘GBH promises, promises, promises, The Affluent Society’. Interpretations of the cryptic GBH include  ‘Grievous Bodily Harm’ or ‘Great British Horror’.

At first this artistic agit-prop and his residual gregariousness (he was crowned drag-tastic Alternative Miss World in 1975 for his Miss Crepe Suzette) seem at odds with the fisherman’s hut he retreated to, shortly after being diagnosed HIV positive in 1987. Yet around the distinctive black dwelling with its yellow window frames and John Donne’s great poem The Sun Rising emblazoned on an outside wall, he created a rustic work of art in its own right that has become a place of pilgrimage. When we visited a decade ago the great garden was still profuse but in 2018 when Jarman’s companion HB died all was placed in jeopardy.  

Thankfully, Prospect House was rescued for posterity by fund-raising £3.5m. We pray its current custodians, Creative Folkestone, can restore the garden to its to its glory – an unfenced riot of flotsam and jetsam, driftwood and flints, Japanese-like pebble patterns and the hardiest of plants. Jarman hated lawns and over-manicured habitats. So do I.

Sea kale – nature’s work of art I hope to cook and eat

Generally rare, Crambe maritima (cabbage of the sea) flourishes on the Ness as nowhere else in England and it was one of the plants that survived best on the saline shingle surrounding the blackened clapboard of his Prospect Cottage. 

In the Manchester Art Gallery shop there is a selection of nine seed packets for sale, each £2.75, ‘carefully hand-packed by Thomas Etty Esq’ , a Kent-based heritage seed supplier. Populating your own garden with the likes of sea campion, rock samphire, sea carrot and wood sage is the plan but I feel they may not necessarily thrive in my part of the world. And I’m never letting the invasive viper’s bugloss anywhere near my flower patch, however pretty.

Still as a tribute to Jarman I shall plant the sea kale seeds in my loamy Yorkshire raised beds this March. It will take patience as, after thinning the rows, you must allow a further year for them to acclimatise. Even then you must blanch by covering with a bucket.

One concern I will be spared is raised early in Derek Jarman’s Garden. “Crambe maritima are edible, but a radiologist told me that they accumulate radioactivity from the nuclear power station more than any other plant.” It’s just the slugs I’ve got to worry about. Or maybe not. According to Jarman with roots 20ft long, tough enough to resist caterpillars and snails, a sea kale plant can live up to half a century.

The symbolic importance to Jarman of ‘sage green’ sea kale is evident when it is the first plant name-checked in Modern Nature, but this rhapsodic Garden entry captures it best: “It is the Ness’s most distinguished plant… they come up between the boats. 

“They die away completely in winter, just a bud on the corky stem. In March they start to sprout – the first sign of spring. The leaves are an inky purple, which looks fine in the ochre pink pebbles, but they rapidly lose the purple and become a glaucous blue-green. 

“Then buds appear; by May these turn into sprays of white flower with little yellow centres – they have a heavy, honey scent which blows across the Ness. The flowers then turn into seeds – which look like a thousand peas. They lose their green and become the colour of bone. At this stage they are at their most beautiful – sprays of pale ochre, several thousand seeds on each plant. The autumn winds return, the leaves rot at the base, dry out and blow away; by November the Crambe has completely disappeared.” Until the next year.

Let me confess: I have little aptitude for beachcombing/foraging. If I go off, I first consult the essential Edible Seashore by John Wright (£14.99), fifth in the River Cottage Handbook series. This warns you off picking more than a few leaves from a sea kale plant in SSSIs (Sites of Specific Scientific Interest). Which is no hardship when you consider they can grow up to two metres in diameter.

What deters me in my quest to cultivate and cook it comes in Edible Seashore “How to cook” section: While it is possible to eat a mature cooked sea kale leaf, it may require a day or two to accomplish the task. It has the flavour and texture of a damp thick face flannel. As the Victorian horticulturalist, Charles McIntosh lamented, this kale cannot be too much boiled.”

They recommend picking when the leaves are purple and tiny. On the bitter side at this stage, it’s best to blanch. Better still try the young flower spikes, which taste like broccoli. Or you can dig up and steam the shoots (though this is counter-productive to having a crop next year!) The taste is said to resemble asparagus.

For an exotic recipe check out this combo on the Great British Chefs website – steamed Scottish sea kale and white sprouting broccoli with crab, smoked cod roe and seaweed. Find sea kale on the menu at any restaurant and it will be cultivated stuff not wild because of the picking restrictions. I know an asparagus farm in Scotland that sells a limited amount of Crambe wholesale and the irrepressible Raymond Blanc grows it in his walled garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, putting it on the menu in season, serving it like asparagus. Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin has created a sea kale and blood orange salad.

Did Jarman himself ever eat sea kale? In Modern Nature he writes about gathering elderflower, frying it in batter and sprinkling it with sugar for supper, but food never seems a priority  

Those journals, which began with ecstatic lists of plants, end in a litany of the drugs that keep him alive. As he gradually loses his sight and his body shrinks he spends more time in hospital than at Dungeness, but a companion to the end at Prospect Cottage is sea kale.

February 10: “Replanted a row of sea kale in the back garden, my first gardening this year.

Then settled down to put the voice-over for the film (Blue, his last) in order. In the afternoon I walked to the sea and found the storms had washed away the shingle, exposing the sea kale. I gathered several very large specimens and replanted them in the front garden.”

May 6: “A week has passed without a cloud in the sky. At dawn the sea kale, a froth of white flowers, is covered with small copper butterflies drunk on nectar. They freeze as my shadow falls across them.” And on August 10 a last, frail mention of “bone-bleached sea kale”.

RIP Derek Jarman.