Tag Archive for: Restaurant

Name your dog after fermented soybeans and you are guaranteed a review here. But please don’t quote me. It was delightful to shake paws in the yard with resident pooch Miso the Shibu Ina pup, but that wasn’t the clincher at the outstanding new Restaurant Örme, I was just in need of immediate canine therapy after an epic trek from my Pennine fastness. Floods had taken out the rail line and I endured nearly an hour on the bus from Manchester centre to Urmston, home to the three young folk who opened Örme here in May. To instant acclaim.

Last month the 30-cover restaurant on Church Road was one of 15 new inclusions in the Michelin UK guide alongside higher profile Manc newcomer Higher Ground. It also garnered two nominations in the 2023 Manchester Food and Drink Awards – for Newcomer of the Year and Best Neighbourhood Venue.

 Quite a step up for a suburban site that had previously hosted the likes of The Hideaway, Best Afternoon Tea and an Indian called Theru Kadai.

The name of the latest incumbent, in case you are wondering, derives from the area’s 12th century landowner, one Orme Fitz Seward. Not sure where the umlaut came from. There’s something about four letter leave-you-wondering names for new wave restaurants – Mana, Erst, Kala. Or a chunk of ancient heritage as with Elnecot, which was what Ancoats was called in those misty times before natural wine and designer pooches joined beards as de rigueur.

In truth it hadn’t been my intention to formally review Örme; I just wanted to check what the fuss was all about. The £45 tasting menu isn’t available Saturday lunchtimes; instead it was a pared down £35 four courser, though I couldn’t resist a supplementary dish of cured monkfish for £9 that levelled it all up anyway. That was actually the star turn in a lunch that was consistently impressive from superior snacks through to an indulgent sticky pear, peanut butter custard and ginger ice cream finale.

The monkfish had been sliced so thinly it was diaphanous, dressed with a silky dill emulsion, buttermilk spheres adding freshness and cubes of pickled celeriac a certain punch. Very Nordic. It would have been interesting to see what Örme sommelier Rachel Roberts might have paired it with. I did spot an unusual to find Basque white Txakoli being poured at another table. Rachel (pictured cuddling Miso) offers matching wines at £25 and unusually a British line-up for £35  – for those curious to know what a Welsh red from the Regent grape tastes like. With further Saturday commitments ahead I declined.

Navy blue walls, large front windows, fine cutlery and an indie soundtrack were all factors, but what took my eye was the presence of influential, cutting edge cookbooks on a shelf in the dining space. There was a similar bookish statement of ambition in a young chef at Metamorphica in Haslingden. The Örme collection (think the Noma Book of Fermentation and Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook) belongs to Rachel’s partner, Jack Fields; he and his co-chef Tom Wilson have worked in some impressive kitchens before striking out with their own project.

There’s a lovely precision to their work. A tranche of venison haunch came with a faggot sidekick. A splendid use of the off-cuts. There’s a smoker out back and its use had ‘elevated’ a humble carrot, blobs of blueberry puree adding their own autumnal oomph.

Örme has a quiet assurance about it for such early days. It needs everyone who feels the need to support genuine indie culinary heroes to find a day when the trains are running and walk the 10 minutes from the station. There’s lots of interest en route, too. a good cheese shop, a wine merchants and more. Did I mention that Urmston is also shortlisted for an MFDF gong for Foodie Neighbourhood of the Year?

It all sounds a mite deja vu Noma announcing 20 years on from its foundation it will soon be abandoning the formal restaurant concept that finally won it a third Michelin star in 2021. Adding to its cluster of World’s No.1 restaurant awards that focused the world’s eyes on the culinary wizard of Copenhagen, René Redzepi.

Didn’t that previous groundbreaker, El Bulli in Catalonia close its doors to customers a decade ago to mutate into a culinary research laboratory? The critical Sabatier knives were out then for the perceived pretension. Not everyone had bought into the refined spheres of ‘molecular gastronomy’ and the heavy-handed satire of recent movie The Menu is witness to continuing hostility to a fine dining world few of us can afford – or, when it comes to epic tasting menus, tolerate.

As with El Bulli the broadsheets were quick to react to the Noma ‘bombshell’ with ‘Is This There End for Fine Dining?’ headlines, Observer critic Jay Rayner wading in with ‘Twenty Six courses. £400 bills, artichoke creme brulee… I won’t miss super-luxe restaurants’.

He has got form for whacking bloated, exorbitant establishments, but Noma is a different beast despite its exclusivity. I remember a leaner Rayner lauding Redzepi in the same pages back in 2009 when he was viewed as a natural successor to super chefs Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. Since when the Dane’s templates of foraging and fermentation have filtered down to absorb a whole generation of chefs.

It’s not even clear what form Noma 3.0 will take when it emerges at the end of 2024, the statement hinting “serving guests will still be a part” of a “Noma Projects’ experience that will not be a conventional restaurant. What is certain is that the team will decamp to Kyoto in Japan between March and May 2023. So Japanese influence looks certain. A previous sabbatical foray to the Yucatan in 2017, while the Copenhagen base relocated to include an urban farm, resulted in the swerve in direction that became Noma 2.0.

Simon Martin was along for that Mexican ride and the success of his Michelin-starred Mana in Manchester is proof the expensive tasting menu experience is not dead. I‘m a fan and last year I endorsed the multi-course extravaganza offered by Gareth Ward’s mighty Yynyshir. At both these places the waiting list stretches into the distance. Expect Noma now to be even harder to get into despite a dinner menu for its recent ‘game & forest season’ that cost £415 a head with an additional £214 for wine pairings or £154 for juice pairings. 

Or you could just buy the book, Noma 2.0: Vegetable, Forest, Ocean

Quite a stocking filler. 2.5kg is a lot of cookbook. Particularly for one without printed recipes. And ingredients you are unlikely to pick up at your local Waitrose. So what makes this magnum opus (Artisan, £60) my Food Book of 2022? Pipping very different, pleasurable tomes from Jeremy Lee and Debora Robertson, it is the polar opposite of their domestic charm. Lord Sauron to their Hobbit. Except, tenuously extending the Lord of The Rings conceit, it ultimately casts a near Elvish spell.

Beyond its extreme pictorial beauty there’s nothing approachable and immediately useful about this latest edict from the realm of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant and its shape-shifting magus, Rene Redzepi. That may represent its true magic.

Regular readers of this blog will recall my (rewarding) travails tackling 2018’s Noma Guide to Fermentation. The new book is more a follow-up to Rene’s original mission statement, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (2010), tracing the literal journey that took Noma from derided obscurity to world’s best restaurant. Noma 2.0 records the leap forward, via a sabbatical that involved ‘cuckoo nesting ‘in Mexico, to a new custom-built site in the Danish capital with that radical fermentation lab to the fore, providing all the menu’s building blocks. Noma is relocating to Kyoto, Japan in spring 2023 and friends close to the operation tell me that might mark a radically different stage 3 in its restless evolution.

The story so far is captured by the remarkable photography of New York-based Ditte Isager, who is on back on board for the new book, more brilliant than ever. Her startling image of Blue Mussel and Quail Egg (above) represents an element in one of the three seasonal sections. Ocean reflects the menu for January to April. The others are Vegetable (May through August) and Forest (September through December) – teasing us with 200 dishes in all.

Let Rene and his co-authors explain: “This book is a cookbook, but it is not necessarily meant to be cooked from. At Noma we constantly return to nature as a primary source of creative inspiration, however, creativity is a unique process for each individual. This book is meant to help catalyse that unique creative spark for each reader. If you do wish to recreate any of the dishes, there is a QR code in the book which will bring you to every detailed recipe exactly as they are used in the kitchen at Noma.

“It is about composing a plate that delights the eye as much as the palate, whether through the trompe l’oeil of a “flowerpot” chocolate cake or a dazzling mandala of flowers and berries. It is about pushing the boundaries of what we think we want to eat—a baby pinecone, a pudding made of reindeer brain—to open our palates with startling confidence.”

Let me quote one daunting dish description. It’s my promise to myself next year, aided by what lies through the QR portal to recreate Noma’s Wild Boar and Nasturtium. That’s ‘Forest’,  I’ll have hang fire until Fall. The journey starts when “nasturtium leaves are compressed with parsley oil, then folded over dots of gooseberry-coriander paste and smoked egg yolk paste to form nasturtium ravioli. 

“Chestnuts are cooked in smoked butter until crisp and caramelised, glazed in roasted kelp salt, peaso reduction and smoked seaweed shoyu, and then diced. Fermented wild boar belly is fried to brown its surface and then sliced. Smoked egg yolk paste is piped onto the boar slices, which are then topped with the diced roasted chestnuts and folded to enclose the fillings.

“Three fermented wild boar belly wraps are brushed with chestnut smoked butter and briefly grilled over charcoal. The belly wraps and one nasturtium raviolo are skewered with a blackcurrant wood skewer. The belly wraps are brushed with cep tamari and seasoned with ancho chilli paste, quince vinegar, salt and black pepper. The skewer is served on a hay plate with a wedge of Japanese quince.” 

Or maybe I’ll divert to the more straightforward Sikha Roast, one of many deer recipes, including Reindeer Brain Jelly or Reindeer Marrow Fudge or, gulp, Reindeer Penis Salad. Off-puttingly exotic? Definitely, but what shines through is the determination to make the most of whatever is local and seasonal and sensual. Here not just empty nods to fashion. And if it’s not our ‘local’ who cares? That’s no excuse not to buy an exquisitely beautiful volume for the foodie in your life.

An image of the humble vol-au-vent dropped into my inbox today and I almost swooned, giving it some retro love. Surprisingly the dinky, filled puff pastry didn’t make it onto the buffet of Abigail’s Party, nor did it feature in Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s 1997 retro recipe homage, The Prawn Cocktail Years

Naff image, though? Yes. Yet it has never really gone away as a buffet stalwart despite often languishing in the unfashionable tray. Certainly no one’s going to blame you for buying in a batch of ready-made bases to stuff with chicken, ham or mushrooms in a creamy sauce. One big plus – unlike the prawn cocktail, it’s resistant to ‘deconstruction’.

Variations, savoury and sweet, have been myriad ever since the dish’s invention in early 1800s Paris, credited to the great Antonin Carême. Originally a larger pie, the smaller cocktail party version we now know as a vol-au vent was then called a bouchée.

A testimony to its lightness, the name translates as ‘windblown’. Mrs Beeton (1861) offers us her strawberry version; we’re in naffer territory with Constance Spry (1956), her curry powder and boiled egg filling constituting vol-au-vent à l’indienne.

I expect much better from Climat when it opens in Manchester on Monday, December 5 on the eighth floor of Bruntwood’s Blackfriars House. Suppliers of this morning’s succulent j-peg, this rooftop restaurant/wine mecca is trumpeting the vol-au-vent as its signature snack. Following in the footsteps of the gougère, which serves in the same capacity at the team’s original base in Chester, Covino. That savoury carb, flavoured with Comte cheese, is made from choux pastry like its sweet cousin, the profiterole (which is in The Prawn Cocktail Years).

Luke Richardson, exec chef of Covino and Climat, tells me: “We want to have a different signature snack at each restaurant we open. The gougère will continue to serve Covino, while we’ve opted to resurrect the vol-au-vent for Climat, owing to their complete versatility throughout the seasons. They can literally be stuffed with anything. Beef tartare, parfait, truffle and ricotta, to name just a few.

“Both myself and Simon Ulph (Climat head chef) have worked closely together to develop an opening menu we are both super proud of and we think does justice to the building and the surroundings. We believe we offer something completely different to the Manchester restaurant scene.” 

I can vouch for the quality of food and wine at Michelin-rated Covino. Check out my report on a September visit. The setting there is cosy bistro; Climat is an altogether different beast – major selling points being the ninth floor panoramic view across Manchester city centre and a 250-strong wine list that itself stretches across the horizon. A substantial chunk of these will be Burgundies, a passion of Climat owner Christopher Laidler. Magnifique, I say. Equally promising is the regularly changing ‘modern’ menu with influences from across the world, described by chef Luke describes as ‘Parisian expat food’.

Feasting sized dishes aimed at tables of three or more to share will be a prominent feature in the 100-cover restaurant. Think whole turbot, slow cooked lamb shoulder or ex-dairy cuts on-the-bone. Alongside, Climat will follow the Covino small plates formula. Besides the vol au vents, the snack menu could include fresh malted loaves, seasonal oysters and charcuterie to match that comprehensive wine list.

So what’s on that wine list? Asking for a friend…

The name ‘Climat’ derives from the term used to describe a single vineyard site in Burgundy, which has its own microclimate and specific geological conditions. It’s the region that 40 per cent of the wine list will be allocated to. From some of the world’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, to the region’s lesser-known varieties and appellations. Who’s for a cheeky Mercurey, Montagny or St Aubin? From elsewhere expect to find at least 15 different grower’s Champagnes and the exciting wines of Jura. 

Climat, Blackfriars House, St Marys Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA. The restaurant will be open Monday, 5pm-1pm; Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-3pm, with snacks available -in-between before the kitchen reopens 5pm-11pm. Sundays the kitchen will be open 12pm-8pm, with the bar remaining open until 10pm. To book visit this link. Soft launches will also take place on December 2, 3 or 4, where guests will receive 25 per cent off their food bill.

When I look back on years of reviewing there’s a special roster of restaurants where I got there first. And reassuringly where I raved others followed. No delusions. Places really prospered after my initial sounding was endorsed by fellow critics with a much higher profile. Which brings me to The White Swan at Fence. A slightly slower burner after I awarded it 16/20 back in 2015, the food eulogy undermined by the basic village pub in transition ambience. Neither food nor pub enhanced by a wrong setting on my Canon Power Shot G15. Fuzzy! Shamefacedly, my incognito cover blown, I had to ask chef Tom Parker, at peak Saturday service time, if I could re-shoot certain dishes on the pass. 

Tom was the reason I’d hurtled up the A6068 Padiham bypass to the strung-out commuter hamlet of Fence. A real talent setting up in the most unlikely of places – the only Timothy Taylor tied house in Lancashire. Formerly dubbed ‘The Mucky Duck’.

My chef friend, Mike Jennings (Grenache at Walkden/later WOOD), had rung me to recommend his former Northcote oppo, who started there at 16, five years later winning UK Young Chef of the Year.

Northcote has held a Michelin star for over a quarter of a century; the Swan gained its own in 2018, three years after my first visit, and has kept it since. The award was a surprise to those fixated on more gussied up establishments but, of course, the consistent brilliance of the food counted most. 

That revered status has been confirmed this week by the resurgent Good Food Guide, now a purely digital operation, yet retaining its authority. Strong on expert reader recommendations, it rates UK restaurants across four categories, Good, Very Good, Exceptional and World Class. Only three form the latter pantheon – L’Enclume, Ynyshir and Moor Hall, with all of which I am very familiar. 34 further places make the Exceptional list, including The White Swan at Fence

According to The GFG: “Exceptional equals cooking that has reached the pinnacle of achievement, making it a highly memorable experience for the diner. The whole restaurant will be operating at the highest level: not only perfect dishes, showing faultless technique at every service, but also superb service, a high level of comfort, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. These are the best places to eat in the country.”

Great company for the White Swan. That elite bunch includes the likes of A. Wong, Claude Bosi at Bibendum, Hjem, Inver. Outlaw’s Nest, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Restaurant Story, The Raby Hunt and The Sportsman.

It all leaves me feeling in the right place at the right time again. Read my review of Yynshir where, between booking and staying, it won its second Michelin star and was named the UK’s number one restaurant.

Cue last Saturday, when I booked a Swan lunch for myself and Captain Smidge, the gourmet chihuahua, en route checking the photo settings on my iPhone 13 were spot on. The five course lunch is £55 a head on Saturdays, compared with £45 Tuesday-Friday. Each prix fixe will rise by a tenner from December 1 (for obvious economic logistical reasons). Our standard set dinner will increase to £80 per head Tuesday to Saturday.

At my table opposite the Landlord and Boltmaker cask pumps Gareth Ostick (co-owner with his wife Laura and Tom) tells me that the decision to discard the several-choice a la carte post lockdowns has been a success beyond the obvious cutting down of possible food waste. It has also re-energised chef Tom, giving him the opportunity to roll with what’s fresh on the market. And, of course, in any Michelin destination, added surprises are quintessential.

Here the amuse bouches cluster across the table (no tablecloths and, all you old school Michelin tickers, don’t count on cloches). A tomato consommé topped with intense whipped basil and smoked bacon speckles comes in a prawn cocktail style goblet. With a large pebble of sourdough there’s a choice of butter, Leagram’s organic sheep’s curd, or their signature black pea hummus, which is as ‘Lanky umami’ as ever. Oh, nearly forgot a game liver parfait ‘tart’ coated in hazelnut. I’m driving, so my aim is to make my pint of Taylor’s last but already the glass is half empty, half full. Such a shame, though, not to explore the wine list, these days supplied by the excellent Miles Corish and a vast improvement on that 2015 selection.

Bread aside, Captain Smidge has to wait to the third course of herb-fed chicken to be rewarded with his tythe. It comes with hen of the woods and an old school yet light mushroom sauce with madeira and thyme. It cries out for a creamy Chardonnay, but I stay firm.

Before the fowl there is a cute little Burford Brown egg yolk, under fried potato discs dressed with herring roe and dill, giving it a Scandi brunch feel. Then, more excitingly, in  a red prawn curry foam a substantial Skye scallop topped with its own coral in the lightest of tempura batters. Masterful.

Honey truffle, mascarpone, pears and verjus is a playful palate cleanser before this accomplished kitchen unveils a triumph of soufflé technique, using Valrhona chocolate. With it a darker hot chocolate sauce and a stem ginger ice cream. All as pretty as a picture in my photos. Mostly.

The White Swan at Fence, 300 Wheatley Lane Road, Fence, Burnley BB12 9QA.

Fish heads? I have form for devouring them. Witness the board below at the late, lamented Umezushi in Manchester. That was 2018 (note the prices) and I went for the hamachi. So the dish-determined-to-surprise on the menu at Fallow held no fears. Dowsed in a sriracha emulsion, the smoked cod’s head held plenty of crannies from which to prise collagen-rich morsels. Crumbled charcuterie adding an extra swoosh of umami. Messy, mind, but they reportedly sold 10,000 in their first five months of Fallow’s meteoric rise.

More a dish the likes of which you might find a short walk away in London’s Chinatown. Definitely not one for the pre-theatre crowd en route to Phantom of the Opera further down Haymarket. In that context this all-day restaurant/bar, created by two Heston Blumenthal alumni, should feel like a fish out of water (sic). Especially since it flaunts a sustainability ethos that’s as brazen as its prices. Given all this, it possesses a flamboyant yet democratic buzz. 

Not what you’d always expect from a joint perched at No.13 in the Estella Damm Top 50 Restaurants list. That’s a place behind my beloved Angel at Hetton, though its sense of theatre leans towards numero uno Ynyshir.

I had a front row seat for all this – at the Chef’s Counter, the hectic pass just to my right. None of your The Bear/Boiling Point chaos, though,about this operation, which started in 2020 as a residency at 10 Heddon Street, off Regent Street, before moving to St James’s this year. It was a bold move, smacking of serious investment at a time when the hospitality industry is facing horrendous challenges. Even so this week, hearteningly, its trade body reaffirmed its commitment to sustainability and reducing food waste with a 10 point plan. Fallow is already an object lesson in combining such principles with top quality dining. Their website calls it ‘conscious gastronomy’. Nothing gets thrown away and ‘nose to tail’ ‘farm to fork guides everything they cook.

All of which I contemplate as I gaze up at the hand foraged seaweed, dried flowers and recycled paper decorations dangling from the ceiling, a decor of repurposed materials including mussel and oyster shells and consider the provenance of my mushroom parfait, created from fungi farmed in the basement.

Originally co-founders Will Murray and Jack Croft would buy wonky mushrooms from their suppliers; now they use their own in-house lion’s mane along with smoked shitake. They caramelise them down, adding mirin and tamari. Puréed, butter and eggs are mixed in to create a sustainable mirror image of a classic liver parfait (with further mushrooms draped over. Not dissimilar really, at a fraction of the cost, to the booze and foie-gras laden Meat Fruit, at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where the two young chefs met.

There’s a similar decadent aura from frugal ingredients about my next, equally glorious course, where a fatty salmon belly cut has been whipped into a mousse. It is served in a marrow bone, whose dripping contents add the ooze factor to an accompanying brioche bun. What a belting dish.

This is undoubtedly rich, quite heavy food. Even the corn ribs ‘pop-up signature dish’ I snaffle with an aperitif of Guinness has made a big statement. Chunks of sweetcorn are first deep-fried then sprinkled with kombu. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Alternatively there is a brace of real ribs (back, dairy cow, smoked) as a heftier snack. I still eye with envy the Carlingford oysters being shucked across the counter, but £25 for half a dozen feels too much. 

If you reject the good value Monday-Friday £35 three course offer at lunch the bill can mount up (there’s a £12 truffle supplement on that £24 parfait), especially if you get stuck into the drinks list. I stay with the £8 pint of stout and add a £9 glass of Mencia for my final dish, a beef carpaccio. Fallow’s steaks and burgers are all trumpeted as 45-day aged ex-dairy cow, so I presume my generous helping of anchovy mayo-dressed carpaccio, topped with grated horseradish and gherkin, is no different. From my up-close stool I have watched the sous chef deftly assemble little ‘spoons’ of chicory leaf I am to scoop up my beef with. I was glad of them. The wild-farmed sourdough with fermented potato flour is the one disappointment of an exemplary lunch.

So where to next? A matinee of The Phantom? No. Lucian Freud: New Perspectives at the equally close National Gallery. All for the price of a half dozen Carlingfords.

Fallow, 2 St James’s Market, London, SW1Y 4RP. T Main image (with truffles) from Fallow Facebook page.

Chawanmushi is a passion of Mike Shaw’s. Sounds like a Japanese martial art? No, it’s a savoury custard, prepared with dashi and finished with an umami-rich topping. It was the amuse bouche during our epic 30 course tasting menu at Ynyshir. It will form an equally indispensable part of a more manageable tasting menu at MUSU.

This might be the most striking new addition to the Manchester restaurant scene since Mana.

Classically trained chef-patron (from Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons via Hambleton Hall and Aubergine to Richard Neat’s eponymous Michelin one star in Cannes) Shaw has made a daring leap into an alien gastronomic culture to create this showcase for ‘contemporary Japanese cuisine’. It is due to open on October 6 in the former Randall & Aubin site on Bridge Street. 

An estimated £2.6 million has been lavished on the refurb, while Saddleworth-raised Shaw has spent the last 18 months immersing himself in Japanese food in all its arcane glory. Among the ports of call on his learning curve was Araki, the tiny Mayfair sushi restaurant controversially stripped of all three of its Michelin stars in 2020 when the chef/patron retrenched to Japan.

Ah, sushi the rice-driven standard bearer of Japanese cuisine. Purist Umezushi aside, it has been a debased culinary currency in the city. Witness the recent arrival around the corner from MUSU of a ‘Japanese/Brazilian’ all-you-can eat  steak and sushi joint. 400 covers, but possibly the focus more on partying than edible authenticity.

In contrast, the 55-cover MUSU aims to live up to its name, which translates as ‘infinite possibilities’. That extends to its elevation of rice to centre stage; among the team is a specialist who trained for years in preparing the perfect grain. As Shaw says: “Despite the presence of the finest fish rice is the most important element in sushi. We will concentrate on nigiri, no rolls.”

Advance images of dishes are as ravishing as the CGI shots of the interior. Diners will be given three menu options – an a la carte ‘Sentaku’ menu, which allows guests to choose their dishes from each section of the menu to suit their own personal taste preferences, ‘Kaiseki’, a set menu curated by Michael that comprises seven and 11 course options, which together provide the guest with a balanced choice through the seasonal menu.

Watch out, too, for the puddings. Shaw is a trained pastry chef and has been exending his creative tendencies around the likes of a take on pineapple tarte tatin with ancho pepper but without the pastry. Raspberry dashi, lemon verbena, shizo sorbet are all on the horizon. And just look at those yuzu meringues.

Finally there’s an ‘Omakase’ menu, which will be served at six-seater omakase counter ruled over by head sushi chef Andre Aguilar. He trained under Japanese sushi master Yugo Kato, a specialist in this theatrical experience, entrusting choices to the chef in front of you. I regard it as a form of culinary therapy!

Sourcing for all this will be divided between Japan (A4 grade Wagyu beef, kombu, high grade traditional soy sauce) and the UK (Skye langoustines, salt-aged free range duck from Devon, Wiltshire truffles). There will be N25 beluga and an array of top of the range seafood – bluefin, hamachi, carbonero prawns – some sourced from Out of the Blue in Chorlton, some imported via the legendary True World Foods in London. Special ultra-cold -60C fridges have been installed to ensure the certified and sustainable bluefin remains in perfect condition.

Remarkably the same attention to detail has gone into the surroundings. Every vestige of the ill-fated Randall & Aubin has been stripped away. Replaced by the clean lines and precision associated with Japanese design, but also featuring bespoke Italian furniture and video walls providing an ambient backdrop that strays way beyond a dalliance with Mount Fuji.

Beverage Director Sean McGuirk, is behind an equally creative drinks menu; in-house sommelier, Ivan Milchev has arrived from Manchester’s 20 Stories with a glowing reputation; the wines come from Miles Cornish. Sakewill be as good as it gets. The bar itself is made from Dekton stone, brass and onyx; its fascia is layered in brass, detailed into a banana leaf pattern and softly back lit. It dovetails with the central open kitchen with its large pass. 

Booth tables can transform into cocktail tables, emphasising the fluidity of the whole space. For smaller parties, MUSU’s private dining room accommodates up to 14 guests and can be completely separate or adjoined from the main dining room. Separated by a glazed telescopic wall, the latter can be frosted at the touch of a button to deliver total privacy.

If it all sounds quite a game changer, well it it is. My remit in this website is not to provide news of restaurant/bar openings. In this case I’m making an exception. I’m really that excited.

MUSU, 64 Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 3BN.

We are in the dog-friendly ‘No Man’s Land’ between restaurant and pubby bit. If I wanted, I could cross to an actual bar with hand pumps and order a pint of cask ale brewed under a mile away in an old Dales laithe (hay barn). Instead I sip my 125ml measure (I’m driving) of Swartland Chenin Blanc and contemplate the tranche of turbot on my plate. It has come from Cornwall, as I also expect have the squares of seared cuttlefish that book-end this exquisite main. Perigord supplied the wafers of black truffle; the provenance of the fermented turnip that contributes so much to the ensemble remains a mystery. 

We are eating Michelin at The Angel at Hetton five miles from Skipton. Its chef/patron Michael Wignall has been a serial star holder since winning his first in 1993 at The Burlington, Devonshire Arms just down the road. After quitting two-star Gidleigh Park in Devon in 2018 the plan has been to put The Angel back on the culinary map. Touted as the first gastropub, its best years – which we were part of as regular customers – were long past.

Our first visit to Angel Mark II was exactly a year ago on a glorious Dales summer day, only lockdown restrictions still in place muting our excitement at the transformation. Since when it has retained its star and been named No.4 (two places behind The Parkers Arms across the Lancashire Border) in the Estrella Damm Top 50 UK Gastropubs list. More recently it came in at No.12 in their NRA Top 50 Restaurants and, with The Parkers down at 44, romped home as that list’s ‘Top Gastropub’. The nod there was to its ‘high end’ food. In its 90s heyday under Dennis Watkins there was muttering  that pilgrimages to sample its seafood specials and interesting wine list ruined it for the locals.

Yet it did retains an old Dales pub feel. Now with its spacious, almost Scandi makeover that’s not the case. 

Would I ever pop in while passing for a pint of that Dark Horse Pale Ale? Probably not. Would I once again drive the 60 mile round trip to make the agonising choice between a la carte (£85)  and tasting menu (£95 at lunch)? Yes, I’m already planning my next booking. The temptation is to do an evening and stay over in one of their 15 en suite rooms.

Whatever, The Angel unusually opens Mondays, happily accepts dogs (that ‘no man’s land’ has a hugely comfortable corner booth) and who needs beer when the food is this outstanding?

Our chihuahua Captain Smidge’s last Michelin meal was at Yynshir, UK’s newly anointed No.1 restaurant. Under our table he snoozed through a four hour, 30 course plus, spice-driven tasting menu with deafening house music, mirror balls, fire pits and leathern-aproned disciples serving on. Check out my report on this astonishing place.

This time, in a more relaxed setting, the hound is more up for it, accepting his hand-fed tithe of sourdough, rabbit, confit chicken and Yorkshire spring lamb, off the a la carte this time. Most of this comes from my wife’s order choice. Before the turbot I have crab, razor clam, buttermilk, Oscietra caviar, green strawberries and a Nigiri topped with crab claw meat. Definitely not Smidge’s kettle of fish. 

Contender for prettiest dish is my wife’s intricate starter of Loire rabbit, loin and tiny best end chops, linseed and garden peas, but then her pudding of English cherry with pistachio and a woodruff custard is a looker, too, with equally intense flavours to match. Ditch any pub pretensions, The Angel is one of our great, heavenly places to eat. Certainly in God’s Own Country.

The Angel at Hetton, Back Lane, Hetton, Skipton BD23 6LT.

Courageous is the only way to describe opening a self-funded 12-cover, tasting menu based restaurant in a small Lancashire town with no history of cutting edge dining.

Restaurant Metamorphica is soft launching in Haslingden, as I write. Well behind schedule because of unprecedented times, yet lockdowns allowed chef/patron (ie one man band) Steven Halligan to create from scratch the project he has dreamed about since his catering student days. 

His promise was always apparent. By the age of 20 he won Greater Manchester Young Chef of the Year; two years later he was runner-up for the North West Young Chef of The Year. All this as he was fast-tracked through some impressive kitchens – notably Room and Mr Cooper’s House and Garden in Manchester – justifying his decision to spurn university. Even in 2021, while diverting towards Metamorphica, he made it to the semi-finals of National Chef of the Year.

Yet it always rankled that from the age of 16 cold water was poured upon his vision to one day run a restaurant of his own. The aim to follow in the footsteps of his chef heroes across the world, whose hefty cookbooks grace his new dining space in a former pub. Now 28, Bury-born Steven is ready to prove the doubters wrong.

Herculean best describes the effort put in by him and his father to make this happen. Crowdfunding was never going to be an option without the necessary high profile. So it has been a case of amassing used kitchen equipment for a song, hands-on graft turning an aborted Indian grill conversion into a destination more suited to the constantly evolving menus he wants to put out. The only impossible to avoid outlay was to an electrician. Steven reckons hiring outside help instead of doing it all themselves would have cost them an undoable £150,000.

What best symbolises the rebirth of the corner site just off Haslingden town centre is the window retained from its previous incarnation as the Roebuck boozer versus the butterfly logo that partly justifies the ‘Metamorphica’ monicker of Steven’s restaurant.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses sprang to mind. Not so. I’m happy to accept it might have its foundation in Metamorphica, the classic magic trick associated with Houdini and brought brought up to date by musician Criss Angel. Maybe Steven is metaphorically breaking free from a box that constrained him. Maybe referencing the metamorphic rocks caused by compression? Or mirroring the shape changing stages out of which a butterfly emerges.

A thing of beauty. So is the menu also? On paper, certainly, and after relishing a couple of handsome snacks I can’t wait to sample the real deal when all is settled in…

The first ‘development’ menu featured brioche and cheese; tomatoes, lovage, cream; house loaf and butter; mackerel, cucumber, chervil; pollock, herb tea, parsley, pink peppercorn, sesame, mead; pigeon, plum, rye; goat’s cheese, mirabelle, sorrel; lamb, apple, turnip; anise, apple, honey; almond and meadowsweet millefeuille; blackcurrant pate de fruits.

Until June 30 he is serving this kind of menu for ‘Just The Chef’ events each night, hosting 

only four customers at the open kitchen chef’s table. It will cost of £63 per head (with an optional six-strong ‘drinks journey’), compared with the eventual £78 per person for for 11 courses, maximum covers per night 12. For the foreseeable it’s to be just Steven both in the prep kitchen and front of house with his dad helping with the washing up. The chef’s own first taste of hospitality was as over a sink as a kitchen porter at his Auntie’s gastropub in 2008.

From there it has been a prodigious learning curve – eating in Copenhagen’s finest or the Eleven Madison Avenue, the New York three star of one particular inspiration, Daniel Humm, or working a stage at Philip Howard’s The Square (now closed) in London. Check out the Metamorphica website and you’ll find encomiums to many heroes and mentors, global and local, but also a fierce disillusionment with the way hospitality can stifle talent, too.

In his two years at Mr Cooper’s House and Garden (2AA Rosette and Michelin Bib Gourmand), inside Manchester’s Midland Hotel Steven rose to sous chef, becoming interim head chef for his final six months. You sense in the end he was keen for a personal challenge elsewhere. A short consultancy management role at Stockport’s influential Where The Light Gets In helped whet his appetite to do his own independent thing.

Hence Restaurant Metamorphica. Still a work in progress this steely mission statement about following your dream. Haslingden as an acclaimed gourmet destination? I definitely wouldn’t bet against it.

Restaurant Metamorphica, 1 Charles Lane, Haslingden, Rossendale, BB4 5EA. 01706 614617.

For those of you who pigeonhole Jack Monroe as just a consumer Joan of Arc, championing society’s downtrodden and deprived I have two words: magnolia petals.

This week she Tweeted about ‘A Few of my Favourite Things’ and nature’s free bounty featured. Of course, it did.

She wrote: “Did you know that magnolia petals are edible? They’re like chicory; a crunchy and pleasantly bitter morsel with a peppery aftertaste similar to rocket/arugula. Beautiful and delicious in salads, or as a snack with a sliver of apple or pear and soft blue or other strong cheese.”

Immediately came my Damascene ‘you wait ages for a bus to come along… and then’ moment. Lunching at Another Hand up on Deansgate Mews, Manchester – there on the counter of the open kitchen sat a large tray of freshly foraged stuff including magnolia flowers.

There was also wild garlic, three cornered leek (milder, sweet, more onion flavoured) and sweetly scented black currant blossom. Chef/co-owner Julian Pizer had sourced them all around his home patch of Birchwood, Warrington.

So how does it work in the kitchen for much-travelled Kiwi chef Julian? “The magnolia has been pickled down, infused into syrups and dried to use in several applications through the summer like our magnolia set cream dessert with rhubarb and bbq grapes.”

Julian and his team collected 4kg of magnolia and are going back for a second forage. Foraging suggests wild but magnolia is mostly domesticated in the UK. You’ll find it in private gardens, parks and semi-wild. Its global history is mind-blowing, though. The Magnoliaceae family is recorded to be at least 20 million years old with plants in the same family being up to 95 million years old.

Here’s a pickled magnolia petals recipe (it’s not Julian’s) which, alas, turns the pickles brown, losing the vivid pink colour, but creates a flavour similar to pickled ginger, so it’s a  fine sushi accompaniment. It comes rom the website Eatweeds.

Ingredients

75 g magnolia petals; 100g rice vinegar, 35 g granulated sugar, pinch of salt.

Method

Pick petals that are ready to drop from the tree. Pack into a jar. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir to help the sugar dissolve and heat till steaming and the first tiny bubbles appear. Pour over the petals and let it cool before covering. Leave to steep for a week before using.

Add on a great soundtrack while you’re pickling: Jason Molina’s Hold On, Magnolia.

For our lunch (available until 3pm) at Another Hand we shared smoked fish, rosti with creme fraiche and a soft egg, plus avocado and tomato on rye and a generous grilled sandwich of smoked beef, fennel, celeriac and kraut. Much of th daytime menu centres around the outstanding naturally leavened organic bread from Holy Grain two doors away. Baker Danny Foggo teamed up with Julian and fellow chef Max Yorke (the duo worked at Cottonopolis and Edinburgh Castle) to host Three Hands deli on the bakery site as the precursor to their more ambitious joint project, Another Hand.

That daytime brunchy offering is very deli-led, but Julian’s food ratchets up to a different level with his evening small plates menu. Check out my upcoming Manchester Confidential review. Whether magnolia petals will feature let’s wait and see.

Another Hand, Unit F 253 Deansgate, Mews Level, Manchester, M3 4EN.

A Christmas pudding with custard is an unlikely adjunct to a Sunday lunch at a restaurant trumpeting its allegiance to ‘Modern Middle Eastern-influenced dining and bar culture’, but then a main of plain roast lamb hardly counts as a shawarma either. 

Yet who the hell cares about sticking exactly to the brief when both dishes taste so good? Michelin has been swift to recognise the talent of head chef Craig Rutherford and his Habas team, manifesting the long-term vision of Simon Shaw (below) to expand eastwards from his Iberian-inspired El Gato Negro and Canto.

The orangey, spicy pud was a seasonal special on a menu significantly short on turkey and sprouts, though the warm, exotically cluttered 200-cover basement would be ideal for a festive gathering without all the predictable trimmings.

Let’s call the Christmas pudding an honorary Levantine treat. After all, when the dish originated in the 14th century it was made with hulled wheat, boiled in milk, seasoned with cinnamon and coloured with saffron. Familiar spices from the Middle East to the fore and what started as a plain dish was soon augmented with mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, figs, ground almonds and further spices – savoury and sweet touches that feel decidedly Middle Eastern.

Lamb, not mutton, represents Habas’ Sabbath roast of choice for £17. Across the table it arrives as generous slices of seared half shoulder, tender and pink. The regional remit kicks in with the accompaniments. Labneh (creamy strained Greek yoghurt) brings a delicacy to cauliflower cheese, there’s a sticky oomph to the carrots thanks to sumac and orange honey, while the solid roasted spuds are lifted by black garlic and mint. Oh yes and thankfully not a Yorkshire pudding in sight.

Roasted squash and sautéed kale understandably replace cauli cheese as sides for my vegan alternative – harissa roasted cauliflower (£15). Sumac? Harissa? For those of you unfamiliar with the output of one Yotam Ottolenghi there’s a glossary prefix to the menu. Even I, a devotee of Persian dried black limes, barberries and golpar, have to double check what zhug is.

My daughter and I had kicked off with a £10.50 mezze platter that really did showcase the quest for authenticity that drove chef patron Simon Shaw’s recces in Lebanon and the cuisine-in-exile cafes of London. The hummus is as good as it gets with the  baba ganoush and whipped labneh not far behind. The breads were less impressive, the toasted lavosh brittle, the tiny pittas and the flatbread hosting crumbled halloumi and za’atar (a separate dish for £4) lacking a certain fluffiness.

Maybe Habas suffers in comparison with London big hitters in the field such as Palomar or Barbary but it has settled into the groove it promised. Likewise stablemate Canto in Ancoats, whose initial promise was Portuguese cuisine but which had to swiftly recalibrate as ‘Mediterranean tapas’. I loved my return recently. There is no such miscomprehension, I feel, about this latest Shaw project in the old Panama Hatty’s site. 

One guarantee at any of the restaurants: octopus will be done well. At Habas it was a toss-up for an ‘intermezzo’ between a long-standing fave, filo ‘cigars’ stuffed with feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato, and the chargrilled octopus (£12), curled up inside a bed of smoked aubergine and tomato. Utterly gorgeous, it’s the kind of small plate, along with spot-on service, that must have impressed the Michelin inspectors inside five months of the restaurant (and its bolthole of a bar) opening. We’ll have to wait and see whether it will be garlanded with a Bib Gourmand like El Gato or a Plate like Canto. I suspect the latter.

It being lunchtime we snubbed the inviting bar and its cocktail list (Middle Eastern inspired naturally) in favour of a light red. Well, that was the plan. Our Ribas del Cúa Joven 2018 (£27) from Northern Spain offered a juicy riot of red and black fruits on nose and palate as you’d expect from the Mencia grape. As a Joven I anticipated it would be on the light side. Not so. 14.5 per cent, yet it didn’t feel a bruiser. Main supplier is the estimable Miles Corish of Milestone and all wines on the list are available by the glass in various sizes – apart from the show-off fizzes and the 1998 Chateau Musar, legendary red from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (one of the staging points on Simon Shaw’s journey towards Habas, as it happens. 

£110 and the Musar is yours. Alternatively for Sunday lunch you may bring your own wine for just £5 corkage on all bottles. Another big plus from this obvious labour of love in difficult times. Fi sihtuk! (cheers in Arabic)

Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJJ. 0161 470 9375. Monday-Sunday 12pm-late; food service until 10pm.