Zomato’s Manchester ambitions continue apace

zomatoI recently caught up with the team behind the food discovery website and app Zomato to see how their Manchester launch was going.

Regular readers of this blog might remember we revealed how the Indian operation had started work in the city back in July.

Since then, there’s been a lot happening behind the scenes which I’ve reported on for the Prolific North website here.

Mapped: Welcoming The Hungry Manc

The latest addition to my map of northern food bloggers is The Hungry Manc who is busy munching around Manchester.

LogoAuthored by The Kitchen Assistant, the blog attempts to capture something of the everyday with photography and reviews:

I will be writing about what I eat (and perhaps drink). Not necessarily by means of any sort of recommendation – jeez, why would, or should you listen – but simply to share my ideas and thoughts on the food we all eat.

Afterall we live for an average of 75 years each and eat 3 times a day – in one lifetime that comes to something in the region of 80,000 meals we all get through. So why not try to enjoy each one? And please share your thoughts here with others.

* Do you belong on the map? Please let me know via the comments below, email FoodieSarahATme.com or tweet me @foodiesarah and I’ll add you into the next update.

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.

Street food fights, home delivery and other food news from the north

Hungry GeckoA round-up of foodie news and events from around the north this week:

* Fancy a meal cooked up by a chef and brought round your house? If you’re in Manchester a business doing just that is setting up in the city after running in the capital for the past year. Housebites.com says: “Housebites’ unique model allows customers to browse daily menus created by local chefs at Housebites.com, place an order for a specific time slot and have high quality meals delivered to their door, often by the chef themselves. Because chefs are limited to serve their immediate vicinity, food is never delivered long distance and given the time to go cold.” If you try it out, please do let us know how you get on.

* A celebration of street food is on the cards for Newcastle folk with an Urban Night Feast at the end of September. Organisers say: “The smells of Thai, Spanish, Caribbean, Indian and British food will fill the air, along with music and laughter – so come with friends, grab a drink and enjoy!”  The event runs from 6pm to mednight from 27-29 September.

* And more street food…..for the first time, the Bolton Food Festival (August 24 to 27) will include a designated al fresco dining area, called Gourmet Kitchen, featuring a variety of traders selling high-end international street food. Situated on the south side of Victoria Square (near Newport Street), the Gourmet Kitchen will include Harvey Nichols’ Gastronomique van selling French cuisine and The Hungry Gecko, Asian street food by Masterchef 2011 finalist Jackie Kearney

* And finally on the topic of street food…… The Guardian takes a look at the tensions that arise between established traders and the fly-ins of the streets in this round-up of clashes from from  Blackburn to Saltburn.

* Talking of thorny topics, the Liverpool food blog Food Fascination kicks off a debate about the responsibility food critics on local newspapers should take with keeping their reviews real. “Local newspapers have a duty to provide high quality accurate criticism, it’s only to the benefit of the city and it’s readers,” he writes before taking the Liverpool Echo to task for a recent write up.

* Experienced north west restaurateur Jaf Siddiqi has promised his latest venture, premium Indian restaurant Malai, will help bring back the authenticity of the famous ‘Curry Mile’ area of south Manchester, the Big Hospitality website reports.

* Remember the announcement about the re-opening of the Wetherby Whaler? Well Leeds Grub has a guest blog trying out the famous old Harry Ramsden’s – from the somewhat challenging viewpoint of someone who doesn’t eat fish. Mel of Yummy in Yorkshire explains: “Now it’s important that I confess that as a “flexitarian” I don’t eat fish and so go to places like this for the chips instead – but I had a fish fan with me so I can comment on the quality of the fish!”

* A York pub only opened within the last nine months has already won a nationally recognised award by being chosen as the regional winner in the Best Cask Beer Pub section of the prestigious Great British Pub Awards. One and Other reports:

“The York Tap based on Platform 3 at York station is the brainchild of the owners of fellow beer emporiums Pivni and Sheffield’s own Tap, and has been serving up a wide range of speciality and artisan beers and ales, as well as their Czech house beer Bernard, to thirsty commuters, tourists and keen locals willing to make the trip.”

* Liverpool-born celebrity chef Aiden Byrne has backed a campaign to promote food from Liverpool City Region.
Food Tourism Connect is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England.  The initiative is a commitment to raising the profile of rurally produced food among visitors to Liverpool City Region and to drive demand by promoting it direct to consumers, buyers and wholesaler. Kirkby-born Aiden, formerly head chef at the Dorchester and the youngest ever chef to receive a Michelin Star, supports the campaign because of his own commitment to using locally grown, fresh ingredients. “This region has a great deal to celebrate when it comes to food production. The food we produce is of the highest quality and it is about time we started creating a strong brand in the way other food producing regions have.’

* The exploits of  food nut blog reports from the weekend’s Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival and finds a ginga ninja rather too hot to handle.
If you’ve some food news to share, feel free to add it via the comments below or drop me an email foodiesarah AT me.com or tweet @foodiesarah.

No bloggers! No Pix! What does this burger joint have to hide?

I was stunned to see this on the North West Nosh blog:

“…there’s no reservations (I’m lazy and hate queues), you have to be on Twitter to know where it is, they have a statement saying no bloggers , they don’t let you take photos (not like this is all a clever marketing ploy or something…), and the word ‘nom’ is on the menu.”

Who do they think they are? In fact I toyed with the idea of not naming the place in retaliation at such sheer idiocy but what the hell – hopefully their attempt at the self-effacing name of ‘almost famous burgers’ will turn out to be their epitaph, that or ‘pretentiously never famous’.

Not being particularly interested in mashed up bits of unidentifiable meat or deep-fried lardness, I won’t be bothering to visit anyway so their blogger ban can remain untested.

Updated: 8.55pm Having been tweeted this great response on ‘dirty burgers’ from Mangechester. Well….we food bloggers need to stick together.

The (link) baitbox: Street food, Subway’s complaints handling, secretive cakes and more

Some of the tastiest morsels with a northern edge to enjoy for your lunch.

Good to see plenty of Northern foodies get a mention in the Guardian’s best street food feature;  Leeds caterer Manjit’s Kitchen is offering to make the Indian dish Daulat ki chaat for customers; Manchester’s Jackie Kearney suggests using mushrooms to create a veggie version of the Thai dish Phat Kaphrao; Kada from Moorish Feasts in Leeds makes a version of burek, wrapping two layers of filo round goat’s cheese and lamb merguez; Hazvineyi Mapungwana of Shekinah African Food in Keighley, West Yorkshire, serves walkie-talkies with sadza (cornmeal) because she’s from Zimbabwe; Babushkas in Cheadle, south Manchester, serves a healthy version of bratwurst.

– I hear that food writers Tom Parker Bowles and Matthew Fort are on a mission to revive the Great British Pork Scratching. They’re launching their new brand, Mr Trotters, at Booths in Media City on Thursday.

– A new restaurant offering ‘good hearty original food from around the world’  has opened in Manchester’s South King Street – read more about Mish here.
– Example of poor customer service at a branch of Subway reported over at the Yorkshire Dales Food blog  not just a bad coffee – but a simply terrible response from a major brand.

MANY THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIANCE WITH US CUSTOMERS LIKE YOU CAN REALLY HELP US IMPROVE PERFORMANCE .

– The baking force behind the Clandestine Cake Club is considering the future of the afternoon teas as well as getting used to television appearances. Expect to see her on the Alan Titchmarsh show around March 16. More details here.

– Ever wanted to have a veg box delivery but worried whether you’ll get through it all? Ruth Hinds has been carrying out a veg box experiment and her experience surprised her.

– Katie at Leeds Grub has got round to reviewing Create in King Street, Leeds and enjoyed an intersting sounding menu (squid and black pudding?) as well as a good feeling:

“Create is actually an organisation that provides support and training to disadvantaged people within Leeds, so as well as having a great meal you can get the extra satisfaction of knowing all of the profits get ploughed back into their good work. “

Cookbook review: Malaysian Food

Is the proof of the pudding in the eating – or the reading?

Malaysian Food

When it comes to cookbooks, probably the answer should be both but being an armchair cook seems a perfectly reasonable approach to finding out about an unfamiliar cuisine.

I’ve been reading Malaysian Food by Norman Musa, the chef at Manchester’s Ning restaurant, but I’ll own up to not actually having cooked anything from it as yet.

Apart from the fact I’ve been travelling a lot recently, one of the reasons is sourcing some of the specific ingredients for this cuisine. But here, Musa proves to be exceptionally helpful, not only explaining what some of the ingredients are, but also including pictures and even his recommended brands.

I don’t know about you, but I find locating ingredients in Chinatown stores is often bewildering, so having some idea of what Belacab (shrimp paste) or Kari Ikan (fish curry powder) might look like in the shop, takes some of the fear of the unknown out of the experience.

And Musa provides a very patient commentary of Malaysian custom and his own experiences throughout the book. Such as this description of a street market, which not only informs the reader about some of the ingredients, but also evokes a colourful sense of the place.

“If I am with my mum, she would always get Nasi Lemak, Malysia’s national dish of coconut rice served with boiled egg, peanuts, crispy dried anchovies, cucumber, chilli sambal paste and sometimes chicken. While I eat, the street cats roam around vying for attention and scraps of food.”

The book is also full of evocative photography – from those market stalls of his home country to the individual dishes being created – everything is presented in a vibrant and engaging way.

Reading this has certainly whetted my appetite to get cooking – after a quick stop off at Manchester’s Chinese supermarkets for supplies.

Malaysian Food is on sale through Amazon or direct from the Northern Quarter restaurant and Ning can also be found on Twitter @itsaningthing.

Note: The cookbook was provided free of charge for review purposes.

Fat chicks and fact checks

What happened to the idea that the customer is always right? When it comes to dining out, if this one woman’s experience is anything to go by, simply being able to request a meal prepared as you’d like it seems to be a prospect so terrifying, that all manner of excuse is employed.

In an attempt avoid a fattie meal in a British restaurant, diners on the forum three fat chicks on a diet suggest solutions which include  pretending to own dogs in order to take home leftovers and inventing mystery serious illnesses in order to be able to select off the children’s menu? Eating out really shouldn’t be this difficult, should it?

For those interested in Manchester’s food scene, The ManchesterConfidential top 26 restaurants provided some tasty morsels – and some blindingly obvious but much-debated omissions (not least Harvey Nicks, which has since been inserted into the list, and Gaucho).

These inconsistencies fuel the regular accusations from commenters that the site is biased to advertisers, an accusation which the editor and publisher vigorously deny and which this week led to this remarkable challenge to readers:

Now here is a challenge from Confidential. If you, or indeed anyone else, can tell us of a restaurant who have ‘bought’ a good review or influenced editorial because they are an advertising client, we shall apologise on the front page, donate £1000 to a charity of your choice and pay for a slap up dinner for the whistleblower at a restaurant of your choice.

Meanwhile, a little bird tells me that one of those that didn’t make it onto the main list (but that was noted as ‘very good’), the Malaysian restaurant Ning, is soon to lauch a web TV platform.

Already active on social networks including Facebook and Twitter, I’m told the professionally produced Ning TV! will be coming soon on You Tube, after the restaurant secured funding from Creative Credits.

For diners the other side of Pennines, the handywork of LeedsGrub blogger Katie makes for an intuitive, easy-on-eye restaurant venue browsing experience. Her Googlemap of every review for food and drink in the happening-est Yorkshire city is building into an excellent point of reference.

Behind the scenes of the F-word

Gordon Ramsay’s hunt for the best UK restaurant has had us couch cooks on the edge of our seats – but what is it really like in the heat of the TV kitchen?I caught up with SweetMandarin‘s Lisa Tse, whose hopes of getting the Manchester Chinese restaurant into the final were dashed this week, to get the insider’s view.

First of all, the question everyone wants to know the answer to, how scary is it being up close with Gordon?

Lisa didn’t seem to find him daunting at all:

“Gordon Ramsay is actually very different in real life to his TV persona. In real life he is friendly, charming, polite (i.e. no swearing) and smiles a lot. I think his swearing is all for the camera – but he’d probably do better without the swearing. I was amazed that he didn’t swear at me ! If he did, I probably wouldn’t have been able to cook!”

But surely when the heat is on, that kitchen must be hell?

“The F word kitchens are very hot because an Aga is constantly on. There are cameras pointing at you in all directions. There was only one sink – which was a bit awkward as both teams needed to use the sink at the same time.”

Lisa has become well-known among Manchester’s digital community, and spread the word of her Northern Quarter restaurant further afield, by utilising Twitter, and she told me that her followers had played a part in the selection of recipes for the programme.

“Gordon requested that for the starters we had to use squid as our ingredient.  So we opted for our bestseller, salt and pepper squid – and one of the Twitterer’s favourites.  For the mains we were allowed to choose anything from our menu – so opted for the house special (our Mum’s dish), the Mabel’s Claypot Chicken.

“I have always loved this home cooked rustic dish with its chunky chicken, lapcheung, bak choy and chinese mushrooms. I was so happy when 42 out of 50 of the F word diners voted to pay for this main course – throughout the series, we scored the highest main course vote.  For the desserts we were instructed by Gordon to cook Banana Fritters.”

The support the restaurant received from the local community, as well as those online fans, has been remarkable – even causing the Sweet Mandarin restaurant website to collapse at one point.

“The level of public/community support has been phenomenal. We’ve had 180,000 hits per minute on the website (which has caused it to crash). The phone has had at its highest level 250 calls a minute. Its been crazy and a brilliant response. “

And although viewers will have seen her knocked out of the running earlier this week, Lisa said she remains open for similar opportunities in the future and is not downhearted.

“”I learnt that our customers are really the best and I will do as much as I can to help them and continue to feed them my good food. I learnt that if you really believe in your offering, and continue to work hard and improve every day, then it will be recognised.

“I think that the scores speak for themselves. We scored 82 out of 100 and came second on the leaderboard, winning the title the Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK and I’m really proud of that achievement – its is an accolade of a lifetime and a huge honour which I dedicate to all of Manchester and to all Twitterers, as well as my Mother and Grandmother.”

Sweet Mandarin is at 19 Copperas Street, Manchester, M4 1HS. 0161 832 8848. @sweetmandarin on Twitter. The F-word website is here.