Grazing menu @ ABode

Little bits of tasty loveliness. All the best cuisines have them – think China’s Dim Sum, Spain’s tapas or the Mediterranean’s mezze – so why not the same approach for a more traditional fayre.
Well Michael Caines is the man to pull it off so we put him to the test by trying out the new “grazing menu” at ABode.
The decor of the hotel in Piccadilly can only be described as swish.
There’s the fashionably, comfortably, subtely shades-of-brown decor and a cocktail menu to delight the most serious sex-in-the city shopper before deciding on just which little piece of loveliness will grace your plate.
Unlike the little dishes of the aforementioned fame, this menu is designed to be eaten solo – no shared plates or everyone dipping in – so, feeling like a glutton, I selected four courses to kick things off.
The first to be served was the smoked eel salad (£5). If you think salad = a bowl of mess leaves + gloopy dressing think on.
The picture (left) doesn’t do credit to this dish of lentils and the most delicate, tender smoked fish you could wish for. The menu says eel but your mouth could almost say smoked haddock due to its lightness and the horseradish sauce just makes the whole thing sing.
Three more dishes to go and the anticipation was palpable round the table.
The second item (I won’t go as far as calling them courses – they really are small) to arrive was, for me, the stand out dish. Sounds simple enough – ravioli of spinach and Parmesan (£5) – but executed just perfectly.

The ravioli was made of the most melting pasta ever created. Light, but not insignificant, it was a contradictory achievement with each of the flavours involved and the herbs keeping their own distinctiveness while adding to the whole.

This restaurant is often billed as being Manchester’s best chance of getting a coveted Michelin star, this pasta dish alone should do it.
None of the remaining dishes disappointed either. The pan fried scallops(£7.50) with an unlikely sounding cauliflower puree was sweetness itself while the best end of Herdwick lamb was tender, rosy and satisfying even in it’s diminutive serving.
I remained with the grazing menu to have a trio of British cheeses from a menu which includes Little Ryding Appleby’s Cheshire and an unusual Kidderton Ash while my companions sampled an amazing array of whipped up desserts – each one presented as prettily as a Viennese chocolate shop .
The group of well-dined women I shared this meal with had eaten in most of the world’s best restaurants and been fed by just about every named chef you could, well, name.
So, unusually, I can offer you something of a group verdict – 9/10 for food but moving down to 6/10 for service due to one broken glass(wine waiter’s slip) and somewhat slow service towards the end of the meal.
Eating at Abode was one of those dining experiences which is truly an experience. Memorable in that evocative way food has where the mere mention of the dish brings the memory of the taste sensation rushing back. It’s also setting a standard on which the city can be judged without any shame. At last!
ABode is at 107 Piccadilly, Manchester, M1 2DB. 0161 247 7744

City food ‘to be scoffed, not scoffed at’

Hurrah! Manchester gets a thumbs up from the man from The Times.
Regular readers will know that I recently spent an enjoyable evening with Nick Wyke who was in the city to do a piece about our dining scene.
Well here’s what he found and what a welcome change it is to see a London critic 1. come north and 2. write some positive coverage.
He made a good move by hooking up with award-winning chef Alison Seagrave, from the Second Floor restaurant and brasserie at Harvey Nichols, in Exchange Square. She told him there’s ample Michelin-star standard food to be had, some of it at sub-capital prices.
“Foodwise, Manchester used to be years behind London but we’ve caught up lately in terms of choice and reliable local suppliers. To win a star you have to set that as a goal. It’s judged on many different criteria from the service to the cooking and some of our dishes are Michelin star in all but name.”
Read the full article here.

What’s wrong with plates?

I ask because there seems to be a growing trend to move away from the traditional round, ceramic receptacles which have done us proud since around 600AD (according to Wikipedia)
In recent times I’ve been presented with steak and chips on something resembling a porcelain trough (pic here) and then last week I was served up a trio of deserts on an off cut of tile courtesy of the caterers of the Big Chip Awards.
It reminds me of that phase of serving chicken in a basket which started as a piece of rustic whimsey (which was actually a basket of sorts) and ended with plastic dishwashable approximations of baskets to hold a basic chicken and chip supper.
I can only imagine what’s round the corner. Food served in all manner of container – water butt? hat? shoes? who knows.
If you encounter any such oddity, please snap it and share it at the Life through Food Flickr group. Be fascinating to see.

Hunting for snails

Manchester is going to hold the city’s first ever ‘snail-hunt’ on Saturday, I’m told. The hunt is being organised by Café Rouge in an attempt to persuade Mancunians to celebrate National Escargot Day and pay homage to one of France’s favourite delicacies – the humble snail.
The hunt sounds fun – from 11am, staff at the Manchester Printworks restaurant will be hiding a grand total of 20 oversized terracotta snails around the local area and the successful hunters claim prizes of wine, Champagne and, of course a meal including l’escargot.
Café Rouge’s Lisa Griffiths (who oddly describes herself as a snail obsessive), said: “Some people might run a mile when confronted with this dish but our hunt proves snails really are worth seeking out! Hopefully the hunt will encourage people to be a little bit more adventurous and fall in love with this fantastic French delicacy.”
Well maybe it will – but not for me. My experience of snails remains limited to preventing the blighters from eating my food in the garden.
And while I know it’s illogical (what’s the difference between this land lover and its watery counterpart from the sea?) I can’t get past those tentacles on the head and the trails.
No nom, nom, no snaily.

Thanks for the picture from the brilliant LOLCats blog

Time to get eating out

The good weather means it’s time to dust off this dedicated outdoor dining section of the blog. Just looking back over last year’s blog coverage, it’s quickly obvious just what a bad summer it was.
Four blog posts on outdoor eating for a whole summer. Four, and I remember being a bit chilly for one of those.
It’s not a true reflection on the outdoor eating facilities available in the city but was purely the fact that the weather never let me get going with it.
So I’ll be looking to make amends this year – suggested venues happily accepted.

Bad week for…….fatties

Yes it’s been revealed this week that the obese are actually to blame for global warming (and I think the Chinese earthquake and Burmese cyclone, but I could have got that bit muddled up).
British scientists say they use up more fuel to transport them around and the amount of food they eat requires more energy to produce than that consumed by those on smaller diets.
According to a team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine this adds to food shortages and higher energy prices.
Mr Edwards and his colleague Ian Roberts argue that because thinner people eat less and are more likely to walk than rely on cars, a slimmer population would lower demand for fuel and food.
But while it’s obviously going too far to blame that fay guy down your street for the polar ice caps melting, this research does fall into the “tell us something we don’t know category”.
Of course slimmer people are more likely to be those that exercise more and eat less – whether from choice in the developed world or due to poverty in the developing world.
But the fight back to the logic has already started – guess where? Yup the land of the lard’s academics are up in (presumably bingo-winged) arms.
It was troubling, some said, that stigma could arise from the suggestion.
“There is enough stigma attached to obesity as it is,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn. “We should very carefully avoid making it seem as if overweight people are responsible for environmental decline.”
“Obese people have enough issues to deal with without being demonized for their impact on the environment,” agreed Keith-Thomas Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist and associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “The truth is, all people are an environmental burden.
“It is offensive, and I’m not overweight,” he said. “I hope the writers are not in the position of seeing patients. They must have missed the lecture on bedside manner.”
Or maybe they’re just able to see the bigger (no pun intended) picture.

Fish pie and gravy NO

This was going to be my shortest blog post ever, just three words WRONG, WRONG, WRONG but then I thought I should expand a little.
Today’s story about a fish pie being served with gravy just makes the city look dumb.
Wrong 1. Fish pie is generally expected to come with potato topping, not pastry. Pastry normally makes it fish en croute.
Wrong 2. Gravy just doesn’t go with fish. If you want gravy, by all means have it but accept the lack of normality and go the whole hog and just have curry sauce and be done with it.
Which brings me to wrong 3. What the customer wants the customer should get – no argument.
There done. Tell me I’m not wrong.

An audience with the man from The Times

Spent an enjoyable early part of yesterday evening talking food and online journalism with The Times food and drink editor Nick Wyke.
He’s ventured out of the capital to write a feature on our fair city and he wanted to pick my brains about the best places to go.
I’ll be fascinated to read what he discovered on his journey around Manchester’s best bits when it’s published on the 21st of this month.
Our conversation started with Shlurp! (the excellent and imaginative soups, salad and sandwich place unfortunately tucked away in the underpass off Brazenose Street ) and ended up somewhere between hotel dining, China Town (Red Chillli, of course), the Curry Mile (Punjab) and Deansgate, I think.
It turns out that Nick is something of an enthusiast for locally sourced and produced food and had already encountered some of the great north west suppliers.
After congratulating himn on being one of the few London-based journos to bother making it to the city, I pointed out that generally we only see two stories written about Manchester’s dining;
Number one. What’s wrong with Manchester? As in why no Michelin stars, why so little top-end dining in a booming city? blah, blah. Most recent example of this being Jay Rayner’s Observer piece
Number two. It’s glam ooop north. This patronising genre of article professes to find it surpring that people like to dress up and go out at the weekend to enjoy cocktails. Coverage along these lines usually involves WAGs.
Talking this through, while admiring the lofty view, it was right on cue that what seemed to be a bus load of young ladies dressed to the nines hit the Hilton’s sky bar and started ordering bellinis and mojitos . Well it was Friday night!
I left soon after to pursue my own start to the weekend but I couldn’t resist asking Nick which of the many fine eateries we’d talked about he might be visiting that night. “Dimitri’s” he suggested.
Good choice – just hope they found him suitably dressed to secure a table.

Bin dippers beware – famine on the way

It’s been a bad week for…………………………..bin dippers
Or, to be more politically correct, freetarians.
Yes, those who rely on other’s people’s thrown out purchases could find thin pickings if the Government and consumers get to grips with cutting down on waste.
A report out this week from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said the average household throws out one-third of all food bought, wasting £420 each year or £610 for those with children.
The figure is £2 billion higher than previously estimated.
Each day householders throw out 1.3 million unopened yoghurt pots, 5,500 whole chickens and 440,000 ready meals, according to the report.
But what’s to be done about it? Obviously I’m not alone in throwing out food and it got me wondering what I personally could change.
Not buying too much of something would be the obvious start but sometimes there’s only one quantity available.
Perhaps the packaging industry has a role to play here by providing a wider selection of jar sizes, or pre-packed goods.
Or maybe the sell-by dates are the issue? How are these arrived at? I’ve frequently found that fresh vegetables are often in perfect condition some time after the date has expired.
Surely a bit more education on how to tell if items are fresh by the time honoured methods of looking, smelling etc. would pay-off here.
But most of all I blame the big supermarkets. Most of the items I throw out are off, well and truly off, and they might not have even reached their sell-bys.
Perhaps if food arrived for sale in a shorter time-scale and wasn’t wrapped in sweaty plastic then there would be less for those freetarians to feast on.
Thanks to tartalom for the fab bin picture. So inviting it almost makes you want to……….NO:)