Does 1 closure = a credit crunch?

Some bad news through today – the city centre restaurant and deli Gastro’s has shut up shop.
The New York style food hall/restaurant in Sackville Street has closed just months after opening up with what seemed like the perfect Manchester offering.
Stylish, specialist and individual; the sort of place the city needs to keep it vibrant in the face of the pressure of the chains.
Whether this is the start of a wider downturn remains to be seen although the number of empty tables regularly viewable across the city perhaps tells its own story.

Credit crunch: Will pet food really be on the menu?

This weekend’s New York Times has some bad food for thought . The credit crunch is biting over there with foodies being forced to change their ways, buy cheaper products and stop dining out.
While many of us this side of the pond probably think a lot of the lardy Statesiders would benefit from cutting back a bit, I can’t help fear the same sort of problems could soon be coming our way as all these economic global issues seem to.
The NYT report says: “middle- and working-class consumers are starting to switch from name brands to cheaper alternatives, to eat in instead of dining out and to fly at unusual hours to shave dollars off airfares.”
So far so reasonbable – no-one is going to cry over a bit of brand swapping and a drop in air travel is on the cards for all of us in these eco-aware times.
But the report continues: “Burt Flickinger, a longtime retail consultant, said the last time he saw such significant changes in consumer buying patterns was the late 1970s, when runaway inflation prompted Americans to “switch from red meat to pork to poultry to pasta — then to peanut butter and jelly.”
“It hasn’t gotten to human food mixed with pet food yet,” he said, “but it is certainly headed in that direction.”
Another tin of Chum darling? Or perhaps that gourmet cat food will finally live up to it’s billing.

Give the staff the tips

The MEN today reports on a trade unions’s campaign to get tips paid to staff.
Unite is urging customers to inquire what happens to their tips before handing over their hard earned cash.
All very good and regular readers of this blog will know it’s an issue I first highlighted back in August .
Since then, a dozen or so people have signed the online petition which is still open for your support.
In addition, I’d like to hear your experiences below. I detailed some of mine here .
In the words of Lord Lee of Trafford, who has now raised this issue in the House of Lords, the practice of restaurants treating tips as an admin charge is a “dishonourable scam”.
So show your support at this blog – if we can get enough signatures, I’ll make sure Lord Lee gets to hear about it.

Do you really think this is a 99?

Aunt Bessie's Mash Cone.jpg
As promotional ideas go, this has to be one of the daftest but the picture appealed to my sense of the surreal so I bring it to you anyway.
This is what is being pushed as the first all-weather alternative to the 99 Flake.
It may look like a 99 Flake at first glance but is actually sausage and mash.
The idea being that summers are too wet and miserable for ice-cream.
Humm. I don’t know who comes up with these ideas. Jane Jones, Marketing Manager for Aunt Bessie’s, obviously has a tough job on her hands trying to convince people about this – particularly if temperatures rise.
But she’s putting a brave face on it: “Even in the welcome event of a heat wave, Aunt Bessie’s Mashed Potato in a cone is a tasty savoury alternative that is guaranteed not to melt down your sleeve in seconds.”
If you’re convinced by the idea, then Tuesday’s your chance to partake from a specially customised van to replace the traditional ice-cream vehicle.
The Mash Van will outside the food hall at The Trafford Centre, Manchester on 22nd April and serving Mash Cones from 11.30 am to 4.30 pm.
Please form an orderly queue, sigh.

Duke of Portland @ Lach Dennis

Being “award-winning” is something of a double-edged sword for a restaurant. On the one-hand it’s often a well-deserved pat on the back for under appreciated hard-working staff or the vision of its proprietor. But on the other hand, customers arrive with high expectations and the likelihood of winning the award several years on the trot is slim leaving the impression that standards might have dropped when the title moves onto another.

The Duke of Portland
is one of those places riding high in the award stakes at the moment. Not only is it Cheshire’s only new entrant for a coveted Michelin pub award, but the banners outside proudly declare that it’s one of the top ten gastropubs in the country according to the Times as well as having been voted the best pub in Cheshire.
So we took our critical high-expectations for a drive out into the leafy lanes of Lach Dennis (near Northwich) to sample some of this prestigious grub.The lofty dining room provided a spacious seating area with the ubiquitous stripped floors and tasteful neutral colour scheme, presumably installed during its refurbishment by the Mooney family (owners of Knutsford’s renowned Belle Epoque Brasserie for the past 30 years) who took it over in 2004.
After being presented with menus the size of dinner trays, we selected some anti pasto to share to start with and received a generous helping of green and black olives, a restrained Lebanese flatbread but a frankly, mean, serving of extremely tasty and well-textured humous.
A good selection of wines by the glass as well as a good choice of cask ales with prices remaining on the sensible scale and a choice of glass serving sizes led us to indulge in a couple of glasses of the wine of the month.
It turned out that those menus needed to be large as they revealed a lot about the dishes on offer with local producers mentioned by name. As the Mooney’s say on their website:”We use only the most highly regarded suppliers who know the source of their ingredients and are happy to put their name to them”.
So Himself knew exactly who to thank for his perfectly cooked, tender sirloin steak (£17.95) – It was Ken Webb from two miles away who produced the generous cut, half-ringed by just the right amount of juicy golden fat.
(I realise even writing that last statement could lead the nutrition police to swoop at any time but there’s times when a little fat adds to the flavour and, with a steak as handsome as that one, the time was right so I’m risking the wrath).
My lamb curry(£10.50) didn’t have any claims to fame but it was a delicious, subtle and generous concoction of meat, fresh chili, coriander and a hint of coconut. Another flatbread made an appearance and we shared a succulent side order of green vegetables dressed with just a turn of sea salt.
Deserts didn’t disappoint either. The thyme creme brulee(£5.50) could provoke a little poetry. the menu reveals that more than 340,000 of these have been served up over the years at the brasserie, so plenty of people will understand this description.
The caramelised topping provides just the right amount of resistance to the spoon, then crack, you’re through and into a creamy centre. Tasting it – first is the vanilla and I can’t trace any thyme then, whoosh, a passing wisp of the herb comes in as an aftertaste. Oh, I just want to repeat that again and again. Those 340,000 plus customers (plus one) weren’t wrong.
The cheeseboard(£5.50) proved to be equally interesting with a range chosen by Peter Papprill aka television’s ‘Cheese Detective’ who makes it his mission to seek out artisan cheese makers. Faultless regional cheese with a selection of gourmet biscuits to boot.
This was simple food but made with fine ingredients and well-cooked. Those awards judges certainly knew they were onto a good thing with this pub.

The Duke of Portland
is at Penny’s Lane, Lach Dennis, Cheshire CW9 7SY Telephone: 01606 46264 Email:
For more pictures, visit the Flickr group.

Has Jowata gone for good?

Just what did happen to Jowata? The former African restaurant at the Castlefield end of Deansgate has been boarded up for some weeks. The telephone number outside is unrecognised but some online forums have noted that there were still some reviews being posted following the closure.
So Jowata closed or not? If you know what’s going on, drop me a line.
And while we’re on the subject of Castlefield, Lava’s new owners have contacted me to say they are open again.

Poetry in a pudding

Sometimes a certain food or dish can lift your spirits, banish the grey gloominess of the weather and put a little song in your heart.
And so it was with this. A thyme creme brulee. Served up at the end of a delightful meal at the Duke of Portland in leafy Lach Dennis (full review to follow) the menu reveals that more than 340,000 of these have been served up over the years, so I’m guessing that plenty of people will understand this description.

The caramelised topping provides just the right amount of resistence to the spoon, then crack, you’re through and into a creamy centre. Tasting it – first is the vanilla and I can’t trace any thyme then, whoosh, a passing wisp of the herb comes in as an aftertaste. Oh, I just want to repeat that again and again.

Those 340,000 plus customers weren’t wrong.

Fully automated restaurant taking orders

Is this the future of dining out? No more pointless questions on whether everything is alright, no disdainful service and no long waits trying to catch someone’s eye to pay the bill. The first fully automated restaurant has opened up in Germany.
Diners order from a touch screen and the food is sent flying helter-skelter style from a kitchen in the roof.

Michael Mack, owner of the ‘s Baggers restaurant in Nuremberg, claims it is the only restaurant of its kind.
At, mydigitalife, which also has some pictures of the interior, he says: “The concept will revolutionize the food industry.” It’s a cool idea! Now, you can say goodbye to those rude waiters with having your meal in automated restaurant.”
All well and good but what’s the food like?
According to techdirt the early reviews haven’t been great.
“It sounds like people have been coming for the novelty, but some are a bit turned off by the mechanical nature of everything (and one person even compared it to the machinery used to feed pigs on large farms).”
Is this the future or just a gimmick? Have your say below.

Where are all the Polish restaurants?

Everyone seems to want to have their two penneth on the issue of immigration but, purely coming at it from a foodie point of view, the arrival of people from many nations over the centuries has been one of the things that’s shaped the British cuisine.
From the early spice importers to the general acceptance of curry as our top national dish, no-one can dispute the wealth of edible opportunities which now present themsleves in every town across the UK.
So perhaps you’d expect that a city the size of Manchester would have a fair share of eastern European restaurants by now. But it seems not. The only one I’ve ever heard of, Cafe Lech in Altrincham, reportedly closed down earlier this year.
There are a good selection of shops selling Polish and Czech foodstuffs, but no restaurants and cafes.
It’s a situation which has featured in online forums but there doesn’t seem to be a concensus on the reason – could it be that dining out isn’t part ofthe Polish culture or are British people not attracted to this cuisine?
I’d certainly like to know more about it. I recently ventured into the Polish stall at the excellent Arndale Food Hall and purchased some bread which has rivalled my previous best.
A half rye – half wheat loaf, it had a fantastic texture and a robust taste which was tempered by the mix of grains. Find out more about this here think it could even take the crown from Station Bakery .
Other items in the shop looked like interesting ingredients and I may venture there again but I appreciate knowing what I’m supposed to aiming for when cooking. A restaurant or cafe selling authentic dishes would be most welcome if there’s any budding restaurateurs reading.

Enjoying food over the airwaves

Time constraints have meant this week’s been a bit of a foodie desert. There’s been some exceptions – a birthday meal at Dimitri’s on Deansgate (more detail on my Flickr site), a restaurant that never disappoints – but little cooking or exploring.
Instead my culinary appetites have been satisfied by two radio programmes.

While radio might not be the first choice for enjoyment of food, I find it can be a surprisingly good medium for conjuring up pictures and taste. As a listener you have less baggage to bring to a show than say, a television viewer, who could also be prejudiced by the images. Particularly if they involve celebrity chefs.

First up this week was Radio 4’s look at the work of the inspectors responsible for awarding Michelin stars in What’s the point of Michelin stars?
While Manchester may not have long to wait for its first city centre star if Michael Caines gets to work , the programme provided a fascinating glimpse into the concerns of the high-end chef and his/her audience.
The description of the restaurant critic as “waddling” to the next meal with his, presumably voluminous, trousers flapping made me simultaneously wince and smile.
It’s well worth a listen again here .
Finally the week ended with a Radio 2 interview with the Observer’s Jay Rayner who has just eaten the world apparently to write a new book. He told Steve Wright about his journey around the very best restaurants in the very best cities around the world.
While being deeply envious of someone who gets paid to undertake such a fantastic journey, I did also work up an appetite to visit Tokyo. Here he dined on many, courses prepared in the world’s smallest restaurant – just for him. Now that’s luxury. Price was never revealed.
The interview concluded with the self-effacing Jay having the good grace to concede that readers may learn little else from the book but how great his life is and how many doubts he has about that!
I may find time to read it myself in the coming weeks but in the meantime the listen again facility is here under Friday.
The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner