Five favourite restaurants of 2012

  Pick of restaurants for 2012

Pick of 2012, a set on Flickr.

It’s time for the obligatory end of year blog post, something that’s becoming as much a part of the seasonal festivities as crackers at Christmas.

Dining out has been curtailed a bit this year, and mainly indulged for special occasions, so this is a pick of places which were mostly researched beforehand or on recommendation. They didn’t disappoint.

Here’s five places I’d definitely eat again.

In the colds of February, we cheered things up with a visit to J Bakers in York. It was a birthday celebration and we pushed the boat out with their tasting menu – seven courses of intense taste and inventive combinations. I did write a fuller review at the time. Verdict: An intimate venue, attentive service and beautifully presented standout food.

The second birthday of our household took us to the north east coast in what was a sunny April. The Fox and Hounds at Goldsborough wasn’t the easiest place to find – yes it really is down that tiny lane which looks like a drive up to a farm. Inside the atmosphere can only be described as convivial and guests are treated to some exciting menu choices. The full review is here.
Verdict: Lovely surroundings, warm service and great fish.

The summer saw us sheltering from the lashing rain after a cloudy walk along the ridge above the Kilburn White Horse at the Michelin rated Black Swan at Oldstead . The food was as good as you’d expect from a place with such a pedigree and the service made for a relaxing evening. A standout dish from the meal was this desert with impossibly light elderflower froth like a fairy’s spit!
Quality experience and lovely rooms to stop over in the event of over indulgence.

A friend’s recommendation brought us closer to home to discover The Bridgewater Arms at Winston. This unassuming pub is housed inside a former school, menus on blackboards and a cosy bar to wait in or eat there. The selection of fish on offer looked interesting and I tried a seabass fillet with chili sweet and sour sauce. The sauce was as far away from that gloopy sickly sweet orange version as I could imagine – light and sophisticated, I was convinced and we’ve since revisited to explore some more the menu.
Verdict: Welcome change from the meat, two veg and a sea of gravy cooking too often served up in the pubs round and about. Well worth a drive out.

Finally a winter treat off the mainland – The Bull on Anglesey, North Wales. What looks like a pub from the outside is in fact a sophisticated restaurant. Guests are shown into the impressive lounge with its roaring inglenook fire place and comfy sofas before being invited up to the loft – an airy dining room in the eaves. The food is interesting take on local produce and there’s plenty of extras touches such as wonderful homemade breads and an amuse bouch course. The waiting staff display that increasingly rare mix of knowledge about the dishes and wine combined with easy friendliness.
Relaxing good food and remarkable value for money for the quality of food and cooking.

I shall be back in 2013 and hope to explore the eating possibilities in the north east a bit more, but for now, wishing the readers, commenters and contributors of this blog a very Happy New Year!


Street food in Manchester – the beginnings of a “scene”

Writer and Lone Gourmet blogger Louise Bolotin gets in at the start of a foodie movement for the city.

Despite a busy restaurant environment, an increasing number of specialist markets, dozens of food bloggers and a thriving food and drink festival Manchester’s street food scene is virtually non-existent. Guerrilla Eats aims to change all that.

Street food carts are a great way for food producers and cooks to start up as the overheads and risks are much lower than taking on a bricks and mortar premises although the red tape level is similar. Turn up at an event in and around Greater
Manchester and the traders will be there cooking hog roasts, Thai curries and paella.

Wander the mean streets of multi-ethnic inner-city south Manchester and you’ll find the odd wagon selling parathas, even steak and chips. But compared to London or even Birmingham and Leeds, there’s nothing in the city centre – nowhere to grab a dirty burger or dosa on the hoof.

The idea behind Guerrilla Eats is to bring the cart traders together regularly at a pop-up spot in the city centre. Most of them know each other already as they all do the festival circuit. Pooling resources makes sense – they can share the pitch costs, while the advertising is word of mouth and social media.

A small trial run in November in Castlefield with three or four of the traders, almost unpublicised, was successful enough for them to organise a larger pop-up in the Northern Quarter.

And so it was that on a freezing cold, drizzly early evening in December that I turned up in a car park in the back end of Port Street where seven traders had set out their stalls. The line up was impressive – proper grilled (not boiled!) beef hot dogs by Dirty Dogs, beautiful home-style dosas from Chaat Cart, patatas bravas at Las Paelleras, and artisan ice-cream from the well-established Ginger’s Comfort Emporium , whose van is a regular sight at Manchester events these days.

One of the Guerrilla Eats organisers, Mal, runs Fire and Salt BBQ with his partner – they have a smoke pit in which their hickory smoked pulled pork shoulder had been slowly cooking for 16 hours under the soil, Texan-style. The meat was juicy, rich in flavour and quite possibly the finest barbecue pork I’ve ever eaten. If this is what the burgeoning street food scene in Manchester will be offering it’s hard to see how it can fail.

Likewise, the burgers at Barnhouse Bistro were more than worthy of five gold stars. Almost Famous, also in the Northern Quarter, started its pop-up dirty burger restaurant earlier in 2012 – it’ll be good for it have some proper competition. Barnhouse’s burgers are made from rump steak and cooked hard and fast so they are nicely chargrilled on the outside but almost completely rare within. With a dollop of homemade horseradish mayo, this was food heaven. And no meal, even one in a wet, down-at-heel car park, would be complete without pudding and there were artisan cupcakes and brownies on offer from Sugar
Bun Sisters
, not just beautifully decorated but slightly boozy too.

As the rain started to come down harder and my fingers began to turn blue, we began drifting away as the traders opened up to the public proper. The car park began filling almost immediately with hungry Mancunians in search of a quality bite, even though it was barely 4pm. Proof that there’s certainly a market for street food in Manchester.

Guerrilla Eats already has eight traders signed up and is negotiating with more to join the collective. The plan is to find a regular pitch and pop up at least monthly, the only proviso for the traders wanting to participate is that they must be making real food and be passionate about it – no room here for sawdust dogs and burgers made of abattoir floor scrapings.

To join the revolution, just follow Guerrilla Eats on Twitter or check out their website as they promise to be
back in January.

Food in the north – not all curry and chicken parmos

Here in the north we spend less on food and drink than the English average as well as less on eating out, according to the latest Family Food Survey.

And while people in the north east, north west, Yorkshire and the Humber might eat less Indian, Chinese and Thai meals than other areas, consumption of alcohol is generally higher.

I’ve written more about this survey over at The Northerner today and the full document is also below.
Family Food 2011

Not long now…..sorting out that Christmas dinner meat order

How do you select your meat for the Christmas feast? The signs are up in the shops; ‘order now to be in time for the big day’, ‘one free elf if you buy 2,000 sausage rolls’ you know the sort of thing………

And then there’s the scramble at the supermarkets and the gnawing fear of finding the shelves as empty as the bagged sugar aisle after a news flash about a potential power cut.

Are you ready? Picture: Kevin Dooley

No way, the thought of seeing those sharp elbows heading into the chipolatas means I’m going to be clicking my way to the dinner table this year.

Buying food online is nothing new and during this year particularly I’ve discovered all manner of services and products where the convenience of having stuff delivered has not only freed up some precious time but also reduced the amount of cash handed over to the faceless supermarket chains. It’s also made me a more adventurous cook – having to find something to create with what arrives in the general veg box often means thinking out new things and, when suppliers have something new to offer, it seems much easier to hear about it.

Whether it’s the weekly basics box or something a bit special for a dinner party (and yes OK, I admit it, I have served up the occasional dish that’s come through the post) the lure of the hassle-free choice of clickable food is now an everyday experience.

So I was interested to hear from the people at Farmer’s Choice. Not only is one of their producers (Yorkshire Game) just down the road from me, which adds a local dimension to the whole shopping on the Internet thing, they’ve been operating online for many years and there’s a couple of things that make them a bit different.

Everything they sell is free range and traceable plus they cater for exactly what you want because they cut the meat to order. As their spokesman told me:

“We cut to requirements to order in exactly the same as what you’d get from over the counter at a butchers..if you just want two lamb chops, then we’ll just cut you two lamb chops.”

I think Christmas calls for a bit more than that but……you take the point.
Taking a look at the Christmas dinner offer , it’s not just the turkey.

There are the free range traditional birds there but also more exotic fare including a couple of extra special three bird roasts like goose, chicken and pheasant, all rolled together for an indulgent feast. And if you really can’t face any of the shopping, just order in the veg as well for the whole experience direct.

There’s not enough of a family for us to get stuck into the specialist hamper – but even if your household does resemble something like The Waltons, it doesn’t look like they’d go hungry with that lot arriving.

Doing the traditional annual thing seems to suit cooks who have a highly-organised sense of timing. I once met a women who had a printed list of every task timed down to the last minute and it started the night before with exact times for each thing to be done……imagine;

– 9am – wash Brussels sprouts
– 9.15 – peel carrots
Etc. etc.
I jest not, this list was even laminated for easy to clean re-use each year!

While I admire the dedication, my approach tends to be a bit more, erm, approximate and this Farmer’s Choice site got me clicking round to see what else is in store and thinking about conjuring up something a bit different.

Curry goat for Boxing Day anyone? Great looking recipe from north west chef Simon Rimmer here.

Five stocking filler books for the foodie in your life

I’ve picked out the following five food related books as they all have some sort of northern connection and have been featured here on the blog. The links go to pages where the books can be ordered. Any suggestions for more? I’d love to compile a wider list of books so please do feel free to get in touch with more.

At the top of the pile is Prashad Cookbook: Indian Vegetarian Cooking
which has some easy to follow recipes and is a must-have for curry lovers unable to visit the Bradford restaurant.

2. Fancy a Cuppa?Written by a north Yorkshire duo, the continuing adventures of the cuppa series could be the ideal stocking filler for the travelling tea tippler.


3. If you’d rather read about cooking that do it, try Manchester’s Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to Westto understand more about the journey of those behind the Northern Quarter eaterie.

Get a glimpse of what inspires some of the dishes with another Manchester restaurant, Ning with this colourful cookbook – Malaysian Food: A Collection of My Favourite Dishes and the Inspiration Behind Them

and finally…..The Thrifty Kitchen: Wartime Lessons for the Modern Cook
which is sold to raise cash for the charity Independent Age and includes a donated recipe from your truly!