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!

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

Time to vote for the north’s Deli of the Year

If you’ve got a local deli you love – it’s the final public stages of the national Deli of the Year competition and your vote is needed.

So far there’s been 18 delis nominated in the north east and 17 in the north west for the competition which ultimately gets judged by some of the UK’s leading food experts.

Over the coming weeks, customers will be able to vote for their chosen deli on the online pages comments will be shown to a panel of independent judges who gather together in June and choose a short list of regional winners.  A series of mystery visits then take place and the winning deli will be announced in September at the Great Taste Awards dinner in London.

To find out more about Deli of the Year visit

The woman who is baking her way around the world

bakesToday is, as I’m sure you’ll all know, world baking day when a global bakeathon will be taking place to share the joy of cakes. So what better day could there be to introduce you to the intrepid Lauren Prince who is attempting a journey around the world in 80 bakes.

From the safety and comfort of her north-east base, Lauren has been stirring, beating and scoffing her way through some of the cake-based cuisines of the world since September last year when she set about her challenge with a tart au citron.

Since then we’ve been treated to fancies such as the local Sunderland Gingerbread to exotics such as Herman the German Friendship Cake

As you can see from the most recent entry, Mexican Chocolate and Chilli Cake, each of the bakes comes with careful descriptions and some lovely photography.

Lauren says she was inspired to start her foodie journey after discovering interesting tastes in far off places during sabbatical travelling and from going on holidays.

“The idea came to me one metro ride to work. I love eating, baking and travelling. Why not combine them all and challenge myself to baking and blogging eighty things from around the world? I began that day and it started to consume my mind completely.”

There’s 50 more world recipes to go so follow the blog at Oh, and she’s also running the Great North Run in aid of Oxfam and you can sponsor her efforts here.

Sunday lunch in a box?

I was interested to discover this online food service,, via a mailshot from Jeff Baker of York’s Bistro Moderne fame.
Introducing the service of seasonal fresh British food delivered from British farms, he says:

“You may have noticed on my menu great producers such as Reg Johnson Goosnargh Duck, Taste Tradition Rare Breed Pork or Cheese from I.J. Mellis. Well now you too can purchase these products, get them delivered to your kitchen and enjoy some of the best produce Britain has to offer.”

I haven’t had the opportunity to buy yet, but a look at the site shows that they’ve really taken the concept of box delivery to new levels – you can even get a breakfast in bed box!

Anything that champions local food, small producers, knowledge, native breeds and animal welfare has to be worth a closer look – just a shame I missed out on the introductory offer. I’ll certainly pay more attention to future deals.

@ Mark Addy, Salford

The Mark Addy has been a part of a shared history for hubby and I for many years. Originally a college haunt for him hanging out with his student chums and eating a staple diet of cheese and pate – the only food on offer – then later a place to share a beer in the sunshine with me in the waterfront beer garden by the Irwell.

Now its basic beery past has given way to gastro pub-ness with the well known Robert Owen Brown in position as executive chef presenting a menu of traditional dishes.

On the subject of the menus, they come emblazoned with the claim “Manchester’s original riverside pub” which struck me as odd, considering it’s actually the Salford side of the river but hey, what’s a historic boundary matter when it comes to marketing?

Onto the all important food.

I went veggie for my starter with the spinach and nettle dumplings stuffed with Garstang blue cheese stuffing and sauce. This was no limp lettuce of a veg dish with its full on robust flavours and spongy dumplings and the not-for-wimps attitude set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Take the classic game terrine for example, not only did Himself manage to eloquently describe the dish as “meat on meat…. with extra meat” it came with an accompanying sprig of green stuff – in a gun cartridge case.

Macho stuff!

My main of hot pot with pickled red cabbage was as good as I expected it to be with melting chunks of well-seasoned lamb and his pheasant breast (although a little over cooked) showed Owen Brown signature characteristic of packing meaty dishes full of flavour.

I was unable to pursue anything more to eat but, perhaps for nostalgic reasons, he insisted on having the cheese selection. The largest single cheese serving ever seen arrived with interesting regional varieties, mountains of crackers, grapes, chutney, celery.

Sitting in the long dining area under the stunning brick vaulted ceilings of the former boathouse waiting room and looking out across the water to the soulless glass of Spinningfield’s chain restaurants, the Addy gives some hope for those of us who want more than vertical drinking and burgers from their city nights out.

Oh, and you can still get plates of cheese and pate.

The Mark Addy, Stanley Street, Salford, just a stone’s throw from Manchester, M3 5EJ.

tel: 0161 832 4080 email:

Mapped: Northern Food Bloggers

There’s quite a few of us now! In an attempt to keep track of some of the food blog I follow from across the north of England I’ve plotted them on a Google map which you can see here;

If you belong on this map, or any of the details are incorrect, please let me know in the comments field below.

Also, you might be interested in this Northern Food Bloggers group which has started as a sub group of the UK Food Bloggers Association.

Few random things from my foodie inbox

I often get sent snippets and morsels which, while they might not make a whole meal of a post by themselves, are worthy of a little grazing. Here’s my pick from the inbox.

From Russia with tea
A tea room which serves more than 50 varieties has opened up in Lancashire. The Russian Tea Room opened in the rather unlikely location of Bacup and is the fulfilment of a dream which started 3,000 miles and 30 years ago apparently.

Olga Penney, who grew up in the Siberian town of Kurgan, says she was captivated by the age old traditions that went into preparing proper Russian tea and opening her own tea room has given her the opportunity to safeguard those traditions:

“My grandmother taught me the intricacies of selecting the correct tea and using a samovar and I loved the mystery and artistry that went into preparing not just the tea, but also selecting the accompanying food and entertainment, all of which are essential to create true Russian hospitality. But most of all I loved the ritual that went into ensuring friends and family, and even visiting strangers were warmly accepted and made welcome.”

Try a cuppa at 4 Pioneer Buildings, Rochdale Road, Bacup. 01706 874800.

Spring soon to be on the menu
I hear Leeds’ swanky City Inn is soon to launch a new spring menu designed by executive chef, Scott Macdonald who started his career working with Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. Menus have yet to be released, but are likely to be memorable.

Left Bank CafeIf you like a pie, try a fidget or a Woolton
The refurbished People’s History Museum in Manchester has also revamped its Left Bank cafe bar. In keeping with its remit to document the history of the
the labour movement, the cafe is offering some traditional and often forgotten northern recipes such as Pan Haggerty, Bacon Fidget Pie, Manchester Tart and
Woolton Pie. The Woolton was devised by
the Ministry of Food during the war to encourage wholesome meals that made
the most of rationing.

You’re such friendly neighbours Manchester….or maybe not!
Finallly, yet another of those interminable surveys……this one claims to asses the neighbourliness of different cities in readiness for a communal lunch event being held in the summer.

First the good news, Manchester is in the top ten of the cities in the UK with the highest percentage of residents claiming to be best friends with their neighbours. It’s actually at number 9. Hurrah!

Or maybe not.

In the very next ‘finding’, the city is in the top ten of cities gaining the highest percentage of residents who claim not to know any of their neighbours – at number 7.

So there you have it, yet another meaningful survey from the spin gurus. Should you wish to see where your city ranks, or doesn’t, or find some other such spurious quotable piece of research – see the full version on Big Lunch blog here.

If you want to send anything about the food scene (outside London), my inbox is at

Curry change at Bull’s Head, Old Glossop

Made a flying visit to Old Glossop last week and what do I find? All change.

The village with three pubs is down to two with a sign pasted on the door of the Queen’s Arms saying it’s closed due to fire. Don’t know why and don’t know when it will re-open – nothing in the local papers about it and no-one around the locked and dark place to ask.

But the bigger change is the new Indian restaurant at The Bull’s Head – and no more ‘memory man’ Mamood.

Mamood (and I apologise if the spelling isn’t right) was an institution and known far and wide for his amazing ability to remember exactly what customers liked to order – and how they liked their food prepared.

We’d got so used to having individualised Indian food – extra ginger in the daal, more chilli for our macho friend, lassi with slightly less sugar – that eating anywhere else felt like eating processed food. (Something I’ve previously blogged about here).

Lamb Handi
New food

The new broom comes courtesy of Longsight’s Lazeeza. After the shock of the new we tried out the lamb handi (very rustic preparation style of lamb on the bone with a robust spicy tomato sauce), daal (which was sadly very salty), mushroom rice and chapati (good bread, no ‘wet flannels’!).

The old place has been given a much-needed re-furb with curtains, a lick of paint and fresh flowers brightening up what could previously be quite a dingy back room.

It’s a good new menu, a friendly greeting and a pleasing environment, so I wish the new management all the best in their endeavours, even if Mamood’s particular attention to customer service will be a hard act to follow.

3 days, 3 cities, 3 (very different) restaurants

This week I’m just back from a whirlwind foodie adventure which I organised for a surprise 40th birthday celebration. Getting everything arranged meant seeking out great places to eat in three cities and involved countless internet searches – but couldn’t have been achieved without a little help from Twitter to put together an itinerary to delight. Here’s a trio of recommendations;

San Carlo is every bit as busy and blingy as you’d ever want a venue to celebrate a special occasion to be. Thankfully you can forget the credit crunch and sit back to enjoy good food and wine plus plenty of people watching. It’s still OK to dress up, get your hair done, splurge on the fake tan (or perhaps go for plastic surgery) and order oysters and Champagne here – and it’s still necessary to book. The food is consistently good and is actually reasonable value too – well cooked traditional Italian with an emphasis on seafood. I enjoyed the spaghetti shellfish with a good kick of chili after sharing plates of interesting bruschetta and those ultra fresh oysters, but those with less of a fishy hankering are also well catered for with a good selection of meat and veggie dishes. With food quality and atmosphere scoring highly, my only criticism of this restaurant is the high-handed (maybe even disdainful) front-of-house service. While every z-lister and wanna-be starlet gets a personal welcome and booth seating, those of us who save up for a special night-out get treated less well – harried to order and even special birthday pleas (phone, email, in person) ignored.(More on that issue here).  About £10-£15 for mains.

The Frontline Restaurant. In a complete contrast, there’s no place for the fur-coat-and-no-knicker brigade with this place. It’s all about real food. As many of the ingredients as possible are sourced from the restaurant’s own farm and its unusual raison d-aitre (started life as a club where war correspondents could relax and eat out) make this a special eaterie that I’ve looked forward to visiting since hearing about it via Twitter (@noodlepie). I wasn’t in the slightest bit disappointed. A plate of hot smoked salmon followed by the sort of cottage pie that makes you feel instantly looked after and comforted were the order of the day for me. This is straightforward food – think pork belly, black pudding, pies and bakes but executed in such a way that the quality of the ingredients is all important. Another plus is the wine policy – not only is the list overseen by Oz Clarke Malcolm Gluck, but wines are available by the glass and at sensible prices. The Sauvignon Blanc (available by the glass for £7) was particularly noteworthy. Surrounded by stunning photography the atmosphere is relaxed but refined and the service is attentive and helpful. Will definitely beat a path there again. About £10-£15 for mains.

A city renowned worldwide for its quality food and arrogant waiters. Well so the stereotype goes but our reality at Chez Astier may have been correct on the former but certainly not the latter.  According to a French friend who helpfully booked our table in advance, this restuarant is “typical” with its jaunty checkeckered tablecloths and closely packed bentwood chairs. We plumped for the set menu – not speaking French this helps! 33Euros for four ccourses including cheese. More on the cheese later. Starters of soup (sorry “veloute”) and aspapargus were nothing to write home about but the mains of perfectly cooked melt-in-the-mouth meat dishes with creamy parsnip puree or potatoes and deep sauces were what we’d hoped for from French cuisine. Then came the cheese course – before the dessert. I’ve never seen a cheese board like it – and maybe I will go through life never experiencing such a thing again. If you can imagine your local supermarket cheese counter for quantity on display,  then replace every sweaty coloured Chedder with the artisan cheeses you might find at a Farmer’s Market, you’ve come somewhere close. We sampled so many – a soft, sweet cheese with a plump raisain surround, a bumptious camembert, blue cheese with the piquancy of Christmas, cheese with rinds, hard cheeses – ohlala monsieur! Service was helpful, friendly even, and the entire experience one of warm delight. Thanks to Twitter friend @louisebolotin for this recommendation which I’m very happy to pass on.