Tag Archive for: Small plates

Up on an eighth floor rooftop with a leaden Manchester skyline all around I’m talking ‘terroir’ with Chris Laidler. He gives me Montagny; I raise him Mercurey. We both agree solidly on Macon in the search for affordable Burgundy wine regions. He confirms Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (average retail price price £25,000) won’t be on the 250-strong wine list planned for Climat, described by my esteemed and wine savvy oppo Kelly as “the most exciting opening on our horizon.” And who am I to disagree?

Still a cluttered ‘work in progress’ at the top of Bridgewater House when I popped up a couple of weeks ago, Chris’s £500,000 wine-friendly dream project, with equally stellar food, is expected to open mid-November. Across Blackfriars Street from where the Treehouse Hotel will sprout next year with a Mary-Ellen McTague helmed restaurant, which will provide a major shot in the arm for the Cathedral end of Deansgate. 

The old Renaissance Hotel that Treehouse will transform remains an eyesore, but the rest of the panorama is urban invigorating. Personal preference: I much prefer restaurant views from this height – Le Mont/Rabbit In The Moon, Manchester House – to 20 Stories.

Chris’s plan is to have 40 per cent of Climat’s list sourced from Burgundy – reds (Pinot Noir and Gamay), whites (Chardonnay, Aligoté) and some surprisingly sophisticated sparklers. Unlike at Chris’s Michelin-rated Covino in Chester, there will be an actual wine list on the website and maybe in print. Rather than scanning the range of enticing, price-tagged  bottles ranked in country order on a ledge up near the ceiling.

To check out the whole project’s credentials we made the pilgrimage to that cosy but cool wine bar on Northgate, the city’s foodie main drag. Think Porta (now extended into what was Joseph Benjamin), The Cheese Shop, Francis Thomas greengrocer’s, Jaunty Goat Coffee.

Covino’s chef Luke Richardson (in the main picture) has moved up to be exec chef across both sites and while Chris enthuses about wine, his forte is food sourcing. Maybe a recent foraging foray into beech sap tapping has yielded a scant bounty, but there’s quality guaranteed from his regular commercial suppliers – Cornwall’s Flying Fish, Growing @Field 28 from up the road in Daresbury and one of my personal faves, Swaledale Butchers in Skipton.

I didn’t ask, but presumed our hogget had come from there. Everything we tried from the reassuringly compact menu was a delight, but this t-bone of teenage lamb was sublime, paired with crisped komatsuna, that mustardy Japanese green and barbecued cucumbers (£16.50). It bookended a meal that began with the fleshiest of Ortiz sardines, spinkled with dried wild oregano flowers and doused in olive oil (£10) and a (very) special of pink cod crudo (£14.50) served with creme fraiche and tiny flavour bomb elderberries. “Hard labour to gather. but worth it,” lamented Luke, standing in front of house. A debutant fellow server, up from London, told me had been recruited for Manchester and was very excited.

There was a pollock’s head dish on the specials board but we chose to order their other take on that undervalued fish. Two taut fillets on a bed of kuri squash were given some punch by a chimichurri sauce (£15.50). For 50p more a roast whole quail was more satisfying, if a little challenging to dismember to its bloodied core.  

My cold rice pudding with sticky damson jam was challenging in that it was such  substntial dollop. The works though was the Valrhona chocolate ganache with plums, the tiny morsel I was allowed to taste from across the table. Each cost £7.50 on a bill that mounted up but felt value. After two glasses of properly dry German Riesling we spent £43 on a bottle of Olga Raffault Chinon Les Barnabes, my kind of go-to late summer red, earthy and smoky. Vinous temptations were all around, a foretaste of things to come in Manchester.

So what to expect from Climat?

Well, a 100 cover restaurant is a big leap upwards (literally) from Covino, which started life as a 300 sq ft wine bar/shop in 2016. It soon expanded, moving site in 2018 to set up on Northgate Street adding small plates to its menu. They were matched by over 130 bottles from around the world ranging from the classics to the funky naturals. Holder of a wine degree, Chris may lean towards classic Burgundies but his 250-strong Manchester list should also reflect mutating wine trends.

As we surveyed the cityscape from the ‘bioclimatic pergola’ (it’s a feature of the terrace, whose plants will service resident bees in four hives on the actual roof) Chris told me: “It’s great to get our foot in the door in Manchester. It represents a big step up for us. The site has so much to offer and we’re going to add something special to a great city. The space will be unique to others with its panoramic views and we can’t wait to share our progress during the build leading up to opening in autumn. Ultimately we want our guests to have a great dining experience and come and share our passion for really good food and drink.”

The addition of Climat caps the final stage of Bruntwood Works’ multi-million-pound renovation of its Blackfriars site. The 1920s-built edifice has been transformed to accommodate workspaces of varying sizes, an auditorium, podcasting studio, ground floor lounge area and coffee shop.

Ye the Climat site really stands out, primarily being constructed of metal and glass, with  limestone floor that yearns to suggest a North Burgundian ‘climat’. Like me, Chris is a Chablis lover and bemoans how global warming is diluting the flintiness of this most mineral of whites. Yes, you can tell I’m really gearing up for this particular Manchester arrival.

Climat, Blackfriars House St Marys, Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA.

The unlikely spectres of Cliff Richard and Paul Kitching haunt my imagination as I dine (magnificently) in a new Manchester hotel that restores my faith in exposed brickwork and small plates. Both the 81-year-old former poster boy of British pop and the one-time enfant terrible of Michelin tasting menus are still going strong. So this is no elegy.

My whimsical connection is The Alan’s former incarnation as the Arora hotel, in which Sir Cliff was a stakeholder, and the cv of current chef Iain Thomas (below), who learnt his trade under Kitching, once of Juniper in Altrincham, a restaurant that married wackiness with true one star quality. A bit like Cliff?

All this was back in the early part of this century and Manchester has moved on. Well, not always. Many incoming hospitality operators feel the need for bee motifs, Hacienda colour schemes and gratuitous homages to Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing or Tony Wilson. 

That could have happened to the old Arora, later the Princess Street Hotel, which had long shed its star appeal. I can’t ascertain when the five Cliff-themed rooms were consigned to history – there ought to be a plaque.

Briefly in the basement the Arora was home to a ‘destination restaurant’, Obsidian. How dated neon-raked images of that doomed project look now. What a contrast to the sustainable core of the refit from the new owners, which strikes you as soon as you enter off Princess Street. The outside sign is so discreet that the ambition of the opened-out lobby/bar takes you aback. Welcome to a relaxed, Shoreditch vibe that continues across the 137 bedrooms of this six storey Grade II listed edifice, all vibrant brickwork and distressed paint.

Congratulations (and jubilations) to the raft of designers name-checked on the website. I was particularly smitten with the lobby floor made from a collage of fragmented and discarded marble pieces, and a bar front “inspired by the M62 that runs round our city” (do they really mean the M60?) consisting of cigarette butts, weeds, flowers all set in a resin.

It is all a playfully welcoming surprise. Yet my object in visiting is to check our Chef Iain’s all-day seasonal menu, with more ambitious small and larger plates in the evening. I first met him when he hosted a game dinner at reinvented old boozer The Edinburgh Castle in Manchester’s Ancoats neighbourhood. As with his predecessor in the kitchen there, Julian Pfizer (now of Another Hand) he was given his head and then the owners seemed to get cold feet about culinary ambition.

The Alan strikes just the right balance. From the off it seems just the kind of relaxed setting and offering if you are a hotel guest but there’s plenty of well-sourced interest on the menu to make it a destination in its own right. Ah, the sourcing. Iain name-checks the city centre Butcher’s Quarter for his meat, while mushrooms are from Polyspore, and  microgreens from Aztec Farms, the vertical farming start-up based at Manchester Science Park. On the drinks list there’s beer from the city’s own Pomona Island and Cloudwater with caffeine input from Ancoats Coffee. The wine list, understandably from further afield, is uninspiring, alas.

Then, provenance one-upmanship. As spring gathers pace expect a very special vegetable input from the chef’s own allotment in Tameside’s Hattersley Projects. I trust him to make the most of it all on the evidence of his impressive track record – in kitchens since 16 with stints at Establishment in Manchester (where Rosso now is), at the “amazing” Paul Kitching’s Michelin-starred 21212 in Edinburgh and s sidekick to Davey Aspin, one of the iconic chef names in Scotland.

At The Alan we asked to try all eight small plates on the menu, all priced around £5 to  £6.50. Attractive looking snacks and meat could await another visit. The plan was to sit at the chef’s table with a perfect eye-line onto the open kitchen, but old bones dictated we retrenched to a booth. 

The dishes came in pairs and were a well-judged mixture of plant-based and flesh. No  duff note with either direction but we were most impressed with the vegan salt-baked celeriac with truffle and sherry vinegar and the cauliflower tikka with cumin, coriander and pomegranate, both managing to be earthy and yet delicate at the same time. Punchier was what threatens to become a Thomas signature dish – lamb fat hispi cabbage. Here lamb trimmings are rendered down and the fat is used to sous vide the cabbage, which is then warmed up in a lamb fat cream emulsion with braised shoulder.

There’s an equal richness to a potato and ox cheek terrine, an elaborate confection where 10 butter-brushed layers of finely sliced potato, a layer of ox cheek and a further 10 spud layers are sandwiched together, and served with blobs of French’s mustard and dill pickle gel.

Undoubtedly there’s an Ottolenghi influence going on. The likes of Confit thighs of Goosnargh chicken are glazed with pomegranate molasses, soy sauce aand mushroom ketchup and, also garnished with nasturtium leaves, that simple Turkish aubergine and tomato dishImam  Bayildi, that translates as “the Imam fainted”.

The Levantine spice palette of cumin, coriander, along with pomegranate arils also permeate Iain’s otherwise classical Cheshire beef tartare, but it’s all lightly handled. Ditto a ceviche of Scottish halibut, where chicory and but orange partner the fish rather than overwhelm. Is any hotel dining menu in Manchester (the obvious exception of Adam Reid at The French apart) better than this?

The Alan, 18 Princess Street, M1 4LG. 0161 236 8999. All rooms feature Emperor sized beds dressed in 200 thread count Egyptian cotton, 50” Samsung Smart TVs with Google Chromecast and pay-per-view movies, superfast Wi-Fi and Audio Pro Bluetooth speakers. The tech-forward hotel is also one of only four in the UK to offer Google Nest smart concierge in all its rooms. There are a variety of rooms on offer, the affordability of which gained The Alan a place in the ’40 UK Hotels For Under £100’ list in the latest Sunday Times.

It’s far from up there with P&O’s unceremonious mass cull of their crews but one of the more unsavoury moments in a troubled 2021 for the hospitality trade was Bruntwood’s decision to dispense with vin-yard, a bijou independent wine bar/shop at its Hatch ‘retail and leisure destination’ on Manchester’s Oxford Road. The landlord’s apparent reason was a need to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic by taking over booze sales from its tenants. The quality wine offering from vin-yard’s Anna Tutton has never been adequately replaced.

Anna Tutton at her vin-yard wine venue at Hatch. She has high hopes for her new venture

For several years it has been a ploy for developers, enlightened and otherwise, to add a dash of millennial cool to their sites by hosting street food wannabes on fixed term deals as a launchpad for eventually establishing their own permanent bases. Now with the economy in freefall that’s easier said than done. When I ran into Anna at a recent wine tasting she told me over lunch about her own life-after-Hatch plan for The Beeswing and it sounded a perfect next step, albeit again pitched as the icing on a property cake – at the Kampus ‘garden neighbourhood’ across the canal from the Village.

The Beeswing is a co-production with business partner Joe Maddock, who ran West Didsbury’s much-loved Pinchjo’s back in the day. For the new venture he’ll provide a small plate menu to match Anna’s eclectic wine offering (mainstream plus some natural). I was particularly taken with the black sesame crusted feta triangles, my main picture, from a menu that will reflect the melting pot of food styles around Manchester – including dals, plant-based and Ottolenghi-influenced Middle-Eastern. All food images by Rebecca Lupton.

Design – sneak preview courtesy of these 3D renders from Andy Gough – is in the hands of the talented and lovely Soo Wilkinson, co-founder of Chorlton’s The Creameries. Set upstairs above Nell’s Pizza place, it too looks a treat with its softened industrial look.

But now comes the rub. There is a budget deficit and Anna and Joe urgently need your crowdfunding help…

The pair’s initial costing was £80,000 and when the figure leapt up to over £100,000 they made up that deficit, but they £25,000 remain adrift of the new final total, so they have launched a crowdfunding campaign, deadline mid-April. It’s a great indie cause – contribute here.

Your potential rewards? You can pre-order a meal for two with wine for £50, or if you can’t wait for the restaurant to open, you can order a meal for six and two bottles of wine to be delivered to your home for £150. You can even help shape the menu by throwing £25 into the pot to be invited to a private dining event of menu cook-offs with chef Joe, and tell him what you think works – or doesn’t. I’ve invested in that one.

Kampus’ developers Capital & Centric and HBD have been pretty canny recruiting some established indie food and drink names to populate Instgrammably picturesque Little David Street. The presence of Pollen Bakery, Cloudwater, Madre, Great North Pie Co, Yum Cha and The Beeswing will attract a clientele way beyond the on-site apartment dwellers.

Cloudwater/Levanter collab at Kampus

This is still very much a work in progress, but to whet the appetite Manchester’s highest profile craft brewery, Cloudwater and Ramsbottom’s award-winning Spanish restaurant Levanter (sibling of Baratxuri) have unveiled a 10 week residency. This will consist of a series of globe-trotting weekend block parties around the ‘tropical garden’ with DJs saluting the likes of California beach sounds and raucous Mexican festivities for Cinco de Mayo, Irish folk parties and smooth NYC jazz.

My focus will obviously be on Levanter’s Joe Botham serving up his legendary giant paellas from 3pm at the canalside Bungalow. The residency kicks off on Easter weekend.

Blog post “The Engineers is as unpretentious as lard and as solid as a bag of bricks” tickled me, even if this particular unsung chronicler of derelict boozers was not quite accurate about a four-square stone edifice in the middle of Sowerby Bridge.

Yet another local, its name referencing the industry which provided its customer core, left abandoned. I’m not going to insert the devastating stats of culled hostelries in recent decades. Too late to get lachrymose; the world has moved on. Yet it’s always heartening to see a pub building rescued imaginatively.

Step forward Engine Social Dining, home to a 30-strong menu of globally inspired small plates. I was the first critic to review it back in October 2018 and lauded the kind of slick all-day operation in a stripped down setting rarely found outside cities’ hipper quarters. Hospitality has been under siege for much of the time since. Engine was thankfully still there. Would it still convince? Let’s do the locomotion…

I suspect virgin olive oil gets the nod over lard in Mark Kemp’s open plan kitchen, complete with wood burning oven, just as it did when he worked up the A58 at Ripponden for Simon Shaw’s original El Gato Negro. The quiet Ulsterman rose through the ranks to be Shaw’s right hand man. Now he’s very much his own man. With a tight-knit team.

As El Gato shifted into Manchester, Kemp became head chef at Ricci’s in Halifax, where Wil Akroyd was manager. The pair hatched the Engine project, using their own money. Famously they had just  £30 left in the bank when they opened. 

Ricci’s, as the name suggests, leans heavily towards Italy; their own place ranges much more widely. Global influences must be in the air in Sowerby Bridge. Near neighbours on Wharf Street Gimbals has generated eclectic and exotic menus for decades. Post pandemic, this Good Food Guide stalwart is now just doing weekend takeaway meals of its ‘greatest hits’. Highly recommended.

Engine has its own recognition now, in the Michelin Guide, belying the stuffy image that can accompany such a mention. Repeat regulars are what sustain a small town operation and we were glad we arrived early one Wednesday lunchtime as a walk-in. Within half an hour virtually every table was taken. Which had taken aback Wil, who was the lone server.

The space is at it coolest after dark, when moody lighting picks out the turquoise and petrol blue upholstery. For food image daylight is infinitely preferable, I hope my iphone does justice to the parade of small plates, in order and served at decent intervals: cauliflower and Manchego croquetas (£5), red curry cod fritters (£6.50), gyozas (£6), Korean spring rolls (£6), belly pork tacos of the day (£8.50), parmesan chips (£5.50), Far Barsey beef fillet (£13), Moroccan pulled lamb (£10).

The pick of a uniformly excellent bunch? The lamb, an old favourite, the spicing spot on and the accompanying man’eesh flatbread, sprinkled with za’tar an advertisement for that wood-fired oven. New to me, the Korean spring rolls were stunning – cylinders of crisp wrapper filled with lemongrass chicken and doused in a ginger sauce. Equally stunning the unusual gyozas. Filled with sobrassada, basil and chilli, they are served with a makhani (butter chicken) sauce. It’s a fusion that ought not to work but yet again it does.

Finally, a requiem for Halifax farm shop Far Barsey, which has shut its doors. Its name will live on in Engine’s Far Barsey beef. They may no longer be the suppliers but the fillet, roasted pink, is splendid. With its pink fir apple potatoes and wild mushrooms in a pink peppercorn jus it’s as close to a Brexit-fenced True Brit dish you’ll find on this menu. The rest is a celebration of cultural diversity and all the better for it.

Engine Social Dining, 72 Wharf Street, Sowerby Bridge HX6 2AF. 01422 740123.

The philosopher Julian Baggini, considering rules in the kitchen, proposes a category of dishes called SIVs (Simple but Infinitely Variable) for various cuisines. The English exemplar is the Roast Dinner. Meat joint, root veg, roasties, Yorkies, gravy, condiments. There are only so many ways you can assemble this Sunday centrepiece and yet… nothing beats everybody’s Mum’s. Or if you’re into culinary dereliction, the congealing hotplate offering in your pub carvery.

I’ve written recently about the Sunday roast route for restaurants and its perils as a paradigm of Englishness. Imagine my surprise then when out of leftfield came a decision by Canto in Ancoats decision to push, alongside its Mediterranean tapas menu, a classic Sabbath selection of half roast chicken, beef sirloin or pork belly. 

You won’t find roasts at Simon Shaw’s sister restaurants, El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Habas (Middle Eastern), but then Canto has alway felt slight hybrid since the initial concept as a homage to  Portuguese food was ditched. Shame on the Manchester public for not buying into this distinctive Iberian cuisine.

The coup for Canto was installing Carlos Gomes as head chef. Porto-born, as it happens, he’s a former head chef at the original Barrafina in Soho, which gained a Michelin star for its Spanish small plates. His Canto menu is basically that too, the only remaining nod to Portugal a few wines, an octopus dish and the irresistible pastel de nata custard tarts.

An image I was sent of the Sunday pork belly almost convinced me to drop my prejudice against trad roasts, but the rest of the gallery had me salivating towards the Carlos’s new autumn/winter menu, launched at the same time. I didn’t regret it. Sampled early evening as a deluge sent the Cutting Room Square crowd scuttling for cover, it was the best array of dishes we’ve eaten at Canto and a couple were a real knock-out. If comfort food can count as a knock-out?

In showbiz you save the star turn till last; so it was with the braised ox cheek, crispy pancetta, celeriac and horseradish puree with kale (£11), a slow-cooked master work to blow any simple roast out of the oven. 

A similar intensity of flavour was present in one of the ‘warm-up’ acts. Jamon croquetas are my gooey crumbed balls of choice, but a swirl of black garlic mayo elevated a mushroom-filled version to umami heights (£6).

Not far behind were griddled cod with a black olive crust and confit potatoes (£9) and caramelised cauliflower in tomato and harissa spiced bean stew (£5.50), both soothing and seasonal in feel.

Octopus is a staple of North West Spain (pulpo) and Northern Portugal (polvo). Here for  £10, a substantial tentacle was served Portuguese lagareiro style, baked with spuds. Not subtle but cephalopod dishes rarely are.

Canto is dog-friendly and trying tiny chunks of octopus was a first for our chihuahua, Captain Smidge. He loved it almost as much as the Italian meatballs in an almondy tomato sauce with parmesan shavings (£8) we ordered with him in mind, but he snubbed the roasted beetroot with ajo blanco sauce (£5.50). Watching his waistline, we were frugal with our contributions of carrot cake and pastel de nata.

We ordered my favourite red on the wine list, from Dao in Portugal (where else?). The Quinta do Correio Tinto 2018 offers a riot of dark berry fruit, herbs and a beguiling smokiness. It’s a bargain at £37 a bottle (also available by the glass). Come to think of it, it would be a perfect partner for a Sunday roast.

Canto, Cutting Room Square, Blossom Street, Manchester M4 5DH.

Now open Wednesday and Thursday 5pm-11pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm-12am and Sunday 12pm-11pm.  The Sunday Roast menu offers two courses for £23 and three for £27, while on Saturdays ‘Tipsy Tapas’, provides great value, with three select dishes and unlimited Cava, Bellinis or house wine for 90 minutes at £35pp. It’s available from 12pm to 3pm until November 8, when the restaurant’s festive offer will officially launch. To make a reservation contact reservations@cantorestaurant.com or call 0161 870 5904.