Farewell another top restaurant

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So another one bites the dust. Le Mont at the top of the Urbis has served its last-ever crème brulee, the doors are closed and the staff sent home.
Just weeks after Establishment also hung up the glass cloth of fine dining, the future for notable eateries is now looking a bit grim.
I always enjoyed Le Mont. It won plenty of critical acclaim from the outset taking the Best Newcomer award in 2002 but somehow never seemed to properly enter the Manchester psyche.
On my first visit, when it launched in a haze of Champagne, my only criticism was the rather too formal style of service.
But they listened, and subsequent visits were less pretentious – although the stark surroundings never really lent themselves to a warm celebratory meal however comforting the food. I always thought the set menu was good value – offering some of the best dining in the city for under for £25 a head.

The wine list was excellent too – if a little daunting – and they take the honour of extracting the most money I’ve ever paid for a bottle of red.

In the end maybe it was the venue that led to the downfall – towering above the city in the Urbis was a novelty when it was the most elevated restaurant but now the sky bar at Beetham Tower does it so much better.
So au revoir Le Mont, let’s hope some brave soul wants to follow where you and Establishment dared to tread.

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Awards in dining Oscars

MANCHESTER restaurants swept the board at the weekend’s 22nd Annual Hi-Life Dining Awards with Harvey Nichols’ Alison Seagrave named chef of the year.
A glittering dinner at the Hilton Hotel, attended by 500 of the north’s top restaurateurs, celebrities and Hi-Life members, was hosted by the BBC duo of Gordon Burns and Dianne Oxberry.
These ‘Dining Oscars of The North’ are the largest restaurant awards chosen by members of the public.
More than 20,000 diners from the 80,000-strong club voted in 13 hotly-contested categories.
Heywood-born Seagrave, still in her first year as head chef at Harvey Nichols’ Second Floor restaurant, beat off competition that included The Lowry Hotel’s Eyck Zimmer and Paul Askew of Liverpool’s London Carriageworks.
She was presented with her award by the legendary Raymond Blanc, whose own Le Petit Blanc scooped Best Manchester Restaurant.
In the wake of Paul Heathcote’s Longridge Restaurant surprisingly losing its Michelin star last week and the continued absence of Michelin representation in Manchester, the Frenchman made an impassioned defence of Manchester’s restaurant culture.
Hi-Life obviously rates the city, making Le Mont in Urbis Overall Best Restaurant and Albert’s Shed in Castlefield Hi-Life Best Newcomer, while Est Est Est in Alderley Edge won Best Cheshire Restaurant.
One of the most popular gongs was the Lifetime Achievement Award to MEN columnist Ray King, who for two decades was the paper’s restaurant reviewer. Hi-Life chairman David Heeley paid tribute to his continuing influence.
Among the celebrities attending the event were Coronation Street stars Sean Wilson, Julia Haworth and Kate Kelly, and comedian Dave Spikey. An auction at the dinner raised more than £6,000 for the Action Against Hunger charity.
Thanks to my colleagues on The Diary page for this update.

Michelin stars awarded – but not here (again)

A total of 122 establishments now have the top Michelin-star status, more than ever before.
But not one has found its way to Manchester.
Guide editor Derek Bulmer said that London and the Channel Islands have done particularly well.
“More and more chefs are opening in London, so there are more listed than ever. The Channel Islands have also done well. The area is able to support these sort of restaurants, it’s been very successful.”
So what does that say about us? Fewer chefs seem prepared to take the risk on the city, quality places such as Establishment going and now the spectre of free parking in the city centre due to be scrapped.

Will we ever be in the running? Does it matter? Let me know what you think below.

In yesterday’s announcement Single Michelin stars were newly awarded to 13 establishments, including one in Wales, two in Scotland and one in the Republic of Ireland.
Here’s the full list.

Michelin starred restaurants 2007

The following establishments have Michelin stars:
ONE STAR
ENGLAND
Drakes on the Pond, Abinger Hammer, Surrey
Juniper, Altrincham, Greater Manchester
Fischer’s at Baslow Hall, Baslow, Derbyshire
Bath Priory, Bath, Bath & North East Somerset
Lucknam Park, Bath, Bath & North East Somerset
The West House, Biddenden, Kent
Jessica’s, Birmingham, West Midlands
Simpsons, Birmingham, West Midlands
Northcote Manor, Blackburn, Lancashire
Morston Hall, Blakeney, Norfolk
The Devonshire Arms Country House, Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire
Le Poussin at Whitley Ridge, Brockenhurst, Hampshire
Christophe, Guernsey @ Fermain Bay , Channel Islands
Atlantic, Jersey @ La Pulente, Channel Islands
Bohemia, Jersey @ St Helier, Channel Islands
Arkle (at Chester Grosvenor Hotel), Chester, Cheshire
Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield, West Sussex
The New Angel, Dartmouth, Devon
Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead, West Sussex
36 on the Quay, Emsworth, Hampshire
Read’s, Faversham, Kent
L’Enclume, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria
Harry’s Place, Grantham,Lincolnshire
The Star Inn, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
The Hare, Hungerford, Berkshire
Box Tree, Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Stagg Inn, Kington, Herefordshire
Mr Underhill’s at Dinham Weir, Ludlow, Shropshire
Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
The Harrow, Marlborough, Wiltshire
The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire
Hambleton Hall, Oakham, Rutland
Ripley’s, Padstow, Cornwall
Yorke Arms, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
The Abbey, Penzance, Cornwall
JSW, Petersfield, Hampshire
L’Ortolan, Reading, Berkshire
Drakes, Ripley, Surrey
Mallory Court, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Seaham Hall, Seaham, Durham
Old Vicarage, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
The Masons Arms, South Molton, Devon
The Olive Branch and Beech House, Stamford, Lincolnshire
The Greyhound, Stockbridge, Hampshire
Waldo’s (at Cliveden), Taplow, Berkshire
The Castle, Taunton, Somerset
The Trouble House, Tetbury, Gloucestershire
The Elephant, Torquay, Devon
Sharrow Bay Country House, Ullswater, Cumbria
The George, Wight (Isle of), Yarmouth
5 North St, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
Gilpin Lodge, Windermere, Cumbria
Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere, Cumbria
Winteringham Fields, Winteringham, Humberside

SCOTLAND

Summer Isles, Achiltibuie, Highland
Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae, South Ayrshire
Braidwoods, Dalry, North Ayrshire
The Kitchin, Edinburgh
Martin Wishart, Edinburgh
Number One (at Balmoral H), Edinburgh
Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, Highland
Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick, Dumfries & Galloway
WALES
The Crown at Whitebrook, Monmouth, Monmouthshire
Plas Bodegroes, Pwllheli, Gwynedd
NORTHERN IRELAND
Restaurant Michael Deane, Belfast, Antrim
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Chapter One, Dublin
L’Ecrivain, Dublin
Thornton’s (at The Fitzwilliam H), Dublin

LONDON

Hakkasan, Bloomsbury
1 Lombard Street (Restaurant), City of London
Club Gascon, City of London
Rhodes Twenty Four, City of London
River Cafe, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith
Aubergine, Chelsea
La Noisette, Chelsea
Rasoi, Chelsea
Tom Aikens, Chelsea
The Ledbury, North Kensington
The Glasshouse, Richmond-upon-Thames, Kew
Chez Bruce, Wandsworth
Assaggi, Bayswater & Maida Vale
Amaya, Belgravia
Nahm (at The Halkin H), Belgravia
Zafferano, Belgravia
Foliage (Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park H), Hyde Park & Knightsbridge
Angela Hartnett at The Connaught, Mayfair
Benares, Mayfair
Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, Mayfair
The Greenhouse, Mayfair
Maze, Mayfair
Mirabelle, Mayfair
Nobu (at The Metropolitan H), Mayfair
Nobu Berkeley, Mayfair
Sketch (The Lecture Room), Mayfair
Tamarind, Mayfair
Umu, Mayfair
Locanda Locatelli, Regent’s Park & Marylebone
Orrery, Regent’s Park & Marylebone
Arbutus, Soho
L’Escargot, Soho
Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House, Soho
Yauatcha, Soho
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Strand & Covent Garden
The Savoy Grill, Strand & Covent Garden
Roussillon, Victoria
TWO STARS:
ENGLAND
Midsummer House, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon
Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Hibiscus, Ludlow, Shropshire
Vineyard, Newbury, Berkshire
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxford, Oxfordshire
SCOTLAND
Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Perth & Kinross
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin

LONDON

Pied a Terre, Camden, Bloomsbury
The Capital Restaurant, Chelsea
Petrus, Belgravia
Le Gavroche, Mayfair
The Square, Mayfair
THREE STARS:
ENGLAND
Fat Duck, Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire
Waterside Inn, Berkshire
LONDON
Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea

Pub grubs on the menu

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A case of real pub grub hit the news this week. Or should I say pub grubs. The Moonraker pub in Leigh is serving up caterpillars (pictured) for some reason.
I find this trend rather disturbing. Chocolate covered ants, crocodile curry and all the other bush tucker style offerings don’t count as culinary adventure in my book.
Apparently it’s a successful move – which doesn’t surprise me. After all serving up strange dishes involving unsuspecting creatures from far-off lands seems to attract the same sort of machismo as super red hot curries or consuming worms at the end of Tequila bottles.
I’m sure there will be dishes as yet undiscovered even in our well-explored world but why not enjoy them (if you must) when visiting their environment? Developing markets for such exotica seems to be a sure-fire way of seeing off some species which might only be abundant because the number of predators is limited.

@ Watersreach

The first review of the year – and the standard set is high.
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Batter: I was a bit unsure about the batter at first sight. It looked as if it had the potential to be a bit soggy but I should have known better and had a little faith in chef Stuart Plant’s abilities. When I cut into it it was crisp and melting – not quite a tempura batter but not far off.
Fish: The fish was perfect white flakes which just fell apart. vinegar.jpg
Vinegar:Of the brown malt variety. Personally I think the Scots get it right by serving the distilled clear variety but I’ve never yet seen it this side of the border. Here the vinegar was served in this silly splashy vessel which meant a lurching glug of vinegar instead of a good shake with a properly designed bottle.
Chips:Good but nothing special.
Mushy peas: Excellent. But while excellent they may be with just the right consistency, and no fancy mint additions or anything silly like that, they attracted an extra charge of £1.95. Isn’t the point of having a set price menu the fact you don’t have any extras?
Tea: Not really a mug of tea sort of place. Decent wine by the glass though.
Price: High. Fish and chips was a main course in a set price meal which was £15.95 for two courses.
Verdict:The best restaurant fish and chips I’ve had in Manchester for a good long while.
Watersreach is at Golden Tulip Manchester, Trafford Park, Manchester. M17 1WS. 0161 873 8899

Lancs the champs for fish and chips

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CONGRATULATIONS to the chip shop owners of Lancashire – they’ve been named as the best in the business.
The county was named fish and chip capital of Britain after research by university experts revealed it has 1,200 fish and chip shops – one for every 914 people – which serve more than 17m portions a year.
Linda and Nigel Hodgson, owners of Hodgson’s fish and chip shop in Lancaster, did the county proud when they won the 2006 National Fish and Chip Shop of the Year competition.
And Lancashire is believed to be home to the first fish and chip shop in 1863 in Mossley, Oldham. Both Bury and Oldham were in Lancashire before boundary changes.
Professor John Walton, of the University of Central Lancashire, studied the history of fish and chips. He believes their popularity stems back to the late 19th century when the cotton mills were thriving and workers were short of time.
He said: “A hundred years ago practically every street in working-class Lancashire had its fish and chip shop.
“So there is plenty of experience of preparing and eating this popular dish and customers are very demanding.”

What a research job. Any vacancies in your department prof?

Goodbye Establishment – and Michelin stars

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Manchester’s most ambitious restaurant, Establishment, has closed and with it goes the aspiration to earn the city centre’s first Michelin star for 15 years. Influential chef and restaurateur Marco Pierre White might not think it matters so much but what does it say about us to a wider audience?
Speaking in today’s M.E.N, Marco Pierre White, points out that there’s more to a good restaurant than the food on offer: “These days when people dine they are seeking a good night out and the food is only one aspect of that; the atmosphere and the service are just as important too.
“Restaurants are part of the entertainment business. People want to enjoy quality time with families and friends with good honest food at a price affordable to go out two or three days a week.”
And who can argue with that? Marco, of course knows what he’s talking about having presided over some of the most famous venues in London – Belvedere, Criterion, L’Escargot, Mirabelle and Quo Vadis.

But that really goes to the heart of the problem – how Manchester is seen in relation to London and other foodie cities.

Without ambitious places like Establishment(pictured) striving to put our city on the map, there will never be a list of venues like the one above attached to Manchester, or a celebrity chef to up our profile.
While the guidebook status might not matter for day-to-day dining experience, or even commercial success, the city’s lack of note puts in into a culinary backwater.
Let’s hope another restaurateur is brave enough to try again in the future.
Are you sorry to see Establishment go? What do you think of Marco Pierre White’s view? Let me know below.

One of life’s small problems solved

Problem: Why is it that if you make sandwiches at home, you always want to eat them two hours before lunchtime? If you don’t have any, there’s no great urge to go out and buy them early so why the craving for the home-produced variety? It happens whatever the choice of filling and whatever time lunch-time is due to be.
I have a personal theory that I’m developing. It goes something like this ……when the humble sandwich is created at home, late at night, its creator is already quite hungry. This starts the digestive process of anticipation running even before you’ve been to sleep.

All through the night, your subconscious wrestles with the idea of you cheese and beetroot bap or the tuna and mayo sub which is hiding in its cling film shroud in the dark recesses of the fridge.

Then breakfast comes along – but because it’s not the much anticipated lunchtime snack – it doesn’t hit the spot.
The hunger continues until you can’t stand it any more and break open the Tupperware at 11am.
Solution: Make a second sandwich which is just for the 11am stage.

When veg isn’t green

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There’s been quite a buzz around this week about a new scientific study into broccoli.
Research costing almost £500,000 is reportedly being spent looking at everyone’s favourite super veg’s DNA to see if its shelf life can be extended.
But is this really a desirable situation?
Apparently the nutritional content in broccoli (as with other veg) starts to deteriorate as soon as it’s harvested. In this case, vitamin C levels fall by half within three days.
Having such a short shelf life should mean us shoppers are being offered vegetables only recently picked. However, if this was extended, wouldn’t the veg be able to come from further afield or be kept in storage longer?
How would that help the move to buy local and reduce the air miles of our basic produce?
Perhaps the researchers at Warwick University would be better employed researching a way of making vegetables colour coded as to their place or origin in the manner of the new food labelling rules. Green broccoli could be reserved for the local produce while the colours get more and more “hot” depending on how near the equator the crop was grown. Red broccoli anyone?