Monday, 17 November 2014

The Parlour - Chorlton, Manchester

For those that don’t live there, Chorlton seems to really rub people (especially those that are particularly vocal on the internet) up the wrong way for whatever petty reason. Long before I first visited I’d long formed the impression it was some sort of trendy vegan hippy commune albeit a very expensive one to live in when in but it’s actually pretty a really pleasant leafy suburb to while away an afternoon.

I’ve still yet to explore properly but in the brief time I’ve spent down there I’ve been surrounded by pretty normal humans and been really impressed with the range of food and drink options (ie the important stuff) on offer. I’ve been in The Beagle for a banging pint from their impressive range, I’ve been drunk as a lord on cheap cocktails in The Font, I’ve scoffed some stunning street food from The Hungry Gecko van in the garden of the Beech Inn (whilst it was still there), and now I’ve had a fantastic pub lunch in the wonderful Parlour.
I remembered the name of The Parlour from winning the best Sunday lunch in the country in the Observer food awards a few years ago. Friends based in Chorlton had also recommended that the food was definitely worth trying so when I had visitors for the weekend I suggested we escape the city and give the place a try for lunch.

The lunch menu on this particular visit was made up of three types of sandwich, a couple of salads, platters (vegetarian, meat or seafood), a handmade burger and then the special of the day which was beer battered fish and chips.

"Seafood Parlour Platter"
There were a lot of elements to this one – a traditional little glass of prawn cocktail served on a bed of fresh salad leaves, the crab cakes were served slightly warm and were crunchy and with plenty of meat, the trout pate was ideal for spreading over the side of bread that was served alongside the board. A small handful of pickled cockles were sprinkled to one side of the board and I got stuck into these along with the oak smoked salmon. I really enjoyed this as a main; the individual flavours complemented each other without any overpowering of the others. I’m sadly still not over my absolute hatred of food being served on boards like this mind.

"Fish and Chips"
This was text book fish and chips for me – crispy beer batter, not one but two giant pieces of tender fish all dished up on a bed of freshly made tartar sauce (which was deliciously heavy on the capers), a generous portion of chips and a side of mushy peas with a hint of mint.
"Handmade Beef Burger"
It’s commonplace now when a burger is dished up to expect a perfect looking production line patty and bun and whilst this hand formed patty was way off the mark looks wise, the all-important flavours and quality of the meat more than made up for it. It came served with a pile of excellent red-hot chunky chips, a couple of giant beer battered onion rings which had a properly satisfying crunch to them and some token salad leaves (which added little other than some colour to the plate) Extra marks granted for allowing it to be ordered rare and arriving perfectly pink in the centre. As we all know by now adding a slice of pickled gherkin to a burger is a match made in heaven and chopping them with capers here through the mayo sauce worked an absolute treat.
"Coronation Salad"
The salad had some serious work to do to compete with the other food that was rapidly filling the table. It consisted of really well cooked chicken delivered on a bed of salad leaves and then sprinkled with toasted cashews and croutons to add some crunch to proceedings. The fruity coronation sauce had been lightly applied to the greenery to give it a flavour throughout and with plenty of spare served on the side to dig the chicken into.
There was a reasonable wait for food (just over 20 mins) but we were caught up in the lunch rush and for the freshness on display it was obviously being cooked to order, it felt like there was real care and attention involved in this food. The positive about the wait is there is a decent bar which had a range of ales, beers, ciders and plenty of spirits. We were all impressed with our individual courses and I had a massive dose of food envy in that I only got to taste the other three dishes and not enjoy them in full myself so will definitely be heading back next time I'm in Chorlton to enjoy some more of the menu. I really must try that infamous Sunday lunch too.
The Parlour on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Lockhart - London

Fine-dining is all well and good but sometimes you want to go for a meal that you really know about afterwards, where you're so tempted by everything that's on the menu and you're struggling for choice. Well, for once I let the pressure gets to me, gave in and ended up over-ordering and had to be almost rolled away from the restaurant afterwards regretting nothing because i'd eaten such glorious food. After eating at the Lockhart I came away feeling like Henry the Eighth, albeit it having gorged on their take on southern US cuisine rather than just eating giant legs of ham straight from an open fire.

I digress and to be honest that's because I've been struggling writing this for some time now. I certainly have plenty to say about the food and how fantastic it was but trying to get over just how enthusiastic I am about this place without just hammering down a stream of adjectives has proved more difficult than I ever imagined.

The Lockhart is on a quiet street behind Marble Arch (in the opposite direction to Le Gavroche so completely away from tourist hell) and from the outside looks like 500 other restaurants in London, a discrete logo emblazoned on awnings, a couple of token tables sat out front and a plain printed A4 menu hidden away in a holder by the door.

In the end we did take one of the tables out the front as it was a baking hot day but the inside was absolutely gorgeous, it reminded me of a more authentic version of Barnyard (that i'd been to 24 hours earlier) with stunning wood floors and farm house style tables but nothing here felt forced or gimmicky. You could close your eyes and day dream that the bundling through one of the fire exits in the back of the restaurant could open up onto a huge field of corn (rather than the dingy little office that was actually out the back).

I started with a Margarita which was reassuringly proper, with the glass salted on one side and served in a substantial heavy glass tumbler which added a nice classy touch. The booze was generous and the tang perfect.

The food that followed was just fantastic from start to finish.

"Pickled quail eggs"
I've eaten pickled eggs more in the past 6 months than in my entire life previously (it's the effect of the move to the North). These were delightful, tasty little snacks to whet my appetite – rich vinegary white and moist yolk. Could easily have sat and picked at a jar of these throughout dinner.

"Chicken Oysters"
These are a delight hidden away on the back of a chicken near the thigh, they're darker than a lot of the typical meat you'd be recovering from the carcass and supposedly slightly oyster shaped (hence the name). It was a great experience to have a small bowl of them dished up and not have to be fishing about after roasting a chicken in the oven to find them only to be immediately craving more. The meat is slightly firm to the touch but oh so tender and juicy to the bite and they made an absolutely perfect dish for a starter to share. The meat itself was almost overshadowed by the sauce, a delicious rich mustard with a hint of lemony citrus.

Not ashamed to admit this was a totally new one on me, I had done a little research ahead of the visit when I saw it on a menu on the website and had wrongly assumed from photos that it would be similar to a shooters sandwich (essentially a squashed cold sandwich stuffed with meat). It actually consisted of quarter of a giant sandwich which was served warm and deep filled with a variety of cured meats and cheese as well as chopped olive salad. The bun looked like a McDonalds sesame bun but the bread was lovely and dense and had some real weight to it. This was verging on life-changing - it was so to my tastes I feel I've been wasting my valuable eating hours without knowing this existed until now. It came with a side of home made salt and vinegar crisps which were the crispiest crisps you could ever imagine - they looked almost overdone colour wise but were incredibly flavoured with salt and vinegar but without creating a hint of soggy texture. The sort of course where you really know you've been eating and immediately start loosening the top button of your trousers as soon as it arrives in preparation. Fantastic stuff.

"Shrimp and Grits"
Rich cheddar, creamy grits, prominent spring onion, tender mushrooms, little bit of heat, topped off with fat juicy prawns. Just perfect homely comfort food, filling but without even a hint of grease or blandness throughout. A really special bowl of food. 

Sides - "Collard Greens" and "Tomato and Cucumber" salad. Both were solid renditions of what I expected when ordered, not a lot to add.

"Corn bread with honey butter"
This was served up still sizzling in the red hot metal tray it had been cooked in, soaked in a mini oil slick of honey butter. The corn bread was cooked perfectly throughout with no hint of a soggy dough centre and the hint of sweetness in the corn was emphasised by the honey butter but still stayed on the right side of savoury to work perfectly as a side for the mains. This accompanied with the Mufuletta was seriously no joke, bordering on an insurmountable mountain of carbs (yes, I finished everything)

"Lemon ice box"
I was utterly stuffed by this phase due to my over-indulgence so far and was determined not to have a dessert but this was one of those meals where everything that had preceded had been so good I was forced to change my mind when I saw the options and went for the lemon ice box. The burnt crust on the outside of the meringue came away like the outer of a marshmallow roasted on a bonfire as a kid. All served on a base of Graham cracker, lemon curd and with lemon ice cream hidden away inside. This was on a par with the tobacco banana chocolate dish that i'd enjoyed at A Wong for the best dessert i've eaten all year thus far. Coming from a non-dessert person this is very high praise indeed.

From the snippets of conversation I couldn't help but overhear, lots of people in there were clearly regulars, a few even mentioning "see you again tomorrow for lunch" which was exceptionally positive to hear but having enjoyed the food on offer I can completely understand why. This is up there with the best places for comfort food i've eaten at in the UK, in fact I almost feel guilty using that description given the level of cooking on display and such great quality - especially for the reasonable prices. I can't even name a highlight here and find myself day-dreaming about being sat out front in the sun tucking into all this again constantly, it's absolutely at the very top of the list to return to next time I'm in London and I could easily see myself joining their list of regulars if I didn't live at the other end of the country.
  Lockhart on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Man Behind The Curtain - Leeds

Now i'm firmly based 'Up North' and finally out of my (admittedly short-sighted) bubble of only keeping an eye on new openings in London, the announcement and buzz late summer around Michael O'Hare opening The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds city centre certainly captured my attention. Mr O'Hare was an entirely new name to me but having done a bit of research and seeing details of the previous restaurants he'd worked for and menus he'd been responsible for certainty piqued my interest enough to book in. Am I ever glad that I did.

Michael is clearly somewhat outspoken about what he expects from this restaurant, just take a look at the 'thoughts' section on the restaurant website. Amongst the bravado, he talks about the goal for Man Behind the Curtain is "to create a restaurant serving ultra modern food that has its own identity. I like the idea of always having one iconic dish on the menu – not classic but iconic". I love that he's set himself such a high standard and set a mission statement like this on the website for him to be judged by in the future, and one that I look forward to checking back on in a few years to see whether he's succeeded.

One thing I wasn't particularly impressed with was the booking e-mail that requested that I call them to make a £20 deposit per person and a note near the bottom that stated "We kindly request that guests dress smartly for the experience, as such gentleman are requested to wear a jacket for dinner. Sports shoes and leisurewear are not permitted." I like getting dressed up for a nice meal as much as anyone and would've rolled with a suit anyway but I absolutely hate being told what to wear - especially when i'm sat in the restaurant dressed up and see people traipsing in wearing jeans and a scruffy check shirt. Some sort of consistency would be good in this regard, but I appreciate that a newly opened fine dining restaurant in the North can't always be as fussy as they'd like to pretend to be, given the reduced audience in the first place.

As a first impression on arriving at a restaurant, this was certainly one of the odder ones - there was a small sign in the window of Flannels clothing store advising that there was a restaurant on the top floor which I feel like could very easily have been missed, especially after a few drinks. Being greeted by a security guard holding a scrap of paper with reservation names on and then walking through a darkened store early evening was certainly a pretty underwhelming start to things and must be an absolute security nightmare. I did read afterwards that it has been used for a restaurant in the past making me even more surprised that they've never sorted this out with a stairway or some other means of access. It definitely made the restaurant feel secondary to the shop and given the attention to detail that was displayed throughout the restaurant itself (i'll get to this later), this introduction was a real shame.

Spirits were immediately lifted once we got into the lift and the menu was displayed to whet our appetites on the way up to the third floor. The evening menu is made up of one option - the  12 course 'Degustation' menu (dictionary definition of degustation, to save you looking it up is "the action or an instance of tasting especially in a series of small portions").

The wine pairing to match the tasting menu was pitched at a very reasonable £20 which covered 4 glasses in total or 3 courses per glass. 

The small but perfectly formed cocktail menu sounded interesting so it would have been rude not to get started on those.

"Violet Gin and Tonic"

"Tahitian vanilla"
This came encased in a solid ball of ice with the alcohol melting away in the bottom like a boozy slush puppy. The hollow vanilla pod as a straw was a nice touch.

A great show-piece to start, served on a silver tray and consisting of olives and anchovies with a drop of oil served within a clear edible bag. They were to be dipped into the glass of vermouth for two seconds to allow the outer casing to begin to break down and then popped it into your mouth to allow the bag to disintegrate leaving a delicious salty snack. A wonderfully imaginative small and perfectly formed introduction.

"Salty Fingers"
Creamy oyster emulsion served with an oyster shell, sat on a bed of flakey salt and surrounded by tart oyster leaf and 'salty fingers' which are a second type of edible leaf and a new one on me - crunchy and pleasantly bitter. The leaves were used to dip into the 'oyster' and the tartness of the leaves combined perfectly with the rich sauce. The sauce was so great it was a proper finger into the shell job to try every last drop.

Served hot, ths consisted of a piece of potato which was light almost like a tiny dumpling and served with a thin sliver of lardo and sprinkled with frieze dried raspberry for some extra crunch and sweetness. The spoon was still slightly warm to the touch and this whole course was like perfect miniaturised comfort food. 

One of those clever dishes that was both hot and cold simultaneously, served with a scoop of pea ice cream as the centre piece and which had hot pea soup poured onto the dish by the chef at the table. Beetroot, red cabbage and carrot sauce where then swirled through the pea to add colour and tartness to the soup. The whole thing tasted of the freshest most flavoursome peas and was incredibly light and enjoyable. 
It came served with a side of fresh bread with a portion of delicious fatty lardo and what was described as bacon crunch, essentially tiny flakes of crispy bacon. I assume the bread was meant to be used to dip into the pea soup but the fatty bacon spread was so good on it's own that it almost completely distracted from the pea. I was so impressed that even a casually introduced side almost took attention away from the stunning pea dish.

The crustacean was served in a moules mariniere consumme with drops of parsley oil. At first each spoonful was almost too much like taking a mouthful of salty sea water but as the initial burst of flavour subsided it became much milder, especially once i'd swallowed some of the juice and had the plump langoustine left to savour. The presentation was once again stunning, each spoon could be lifted away from the centrepiece but this was initially barely noticeable. 

The fish course apparently changes daily based on whatever is fresh at the local Kirkgate market which was great to hear from the chef. On this occasion I was served a beautiful looking piece of incredibly delicate cod loin, covered with tiny scraps of crispy potato and served in squid ink with a dose of what must've been vinegar powder sprinkled over the top. It was like fish and chips turned up to 11 and smelt absolutely incredible as it was placed in front of me. A truly stunning plate of food. 

In a change to the menu, the sweetbreads had been replaced with a portion of Lobster tail. Sweetbreads are one of my favourites so I was initially a little disappointed but what better than lobster tail as a replacement? The tail came served on a swirl of black garlic paste and a slice of dried milk skin on top as presentation. The milk and garlic were extremely mild taste wise, more there to add texture to the dish whilst allowing the flavour of the lobster to shine. 

A portion of wonderfully succulent ox cheek, swerved with a foie gras and cherry sauce then decorated with puffed salt and vinegar wild rice. The sherry paired with this course had also been used in the sauce which worked together and complemented each other exceptionally well. The crunchiness of the puffed rice with the ultra soft meat was another fantastic combination, another real highlight.

Inspired by Tobacco and Vanille scent from the Tom Ford private collection. I'd had a sniff previously but it was a nice touch to have the sample card sprayed with the scent. Hidden inside the tin were two posh mini-milk type lollies flavoured with the rich vanilla and tobacco flavour of the perfume, which were chopped open with the haircutting scissors. A really inventive dish that worked on even more senses at the same time.
As a brief aside, I noticed this morning on a TripAdvistor review of the restaurant that ChesireTraveller80 mentioned "Top Tip... don't take the Tom Ford card you will have to give it back (you will know what we mean when you go)." WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? 

This was a dessert right up my street - light, refreshing and cleansing after the prior courses. Made up of a couple of fresh compressed strawberries and a scoop of parmesan ice cream, finished with basil snow and pieces of freeze dried strawberry, all served on a base of 'raw crumble' and balsamic gel. What sounded like a lot to fit in flavour wise worked together fantastically, the sweetness of the strawberries toned down with the parmesan and basil and that tiny taste of balsamic at the end the icing on the cake. Wonderful.

Left to right in the photo below, these certainly kept the imagination levels high. 
Frieze dried raspberry with saffron encased in milk chocolate. 
I'm not 100% sure on this one, I believe it was cep mushroom in dark chocolate
The highlight was the Campari and grapefruit liquid hidden away in the hard white chocolate outer - a down in one job if there ever was one as the centre was fit to burst with the smallest of pressure.
The final chocolate was a strip of crispy bean curd encased in milk chocolate and rolled in lavender and caraway.

The final course was an ultra-refreshing portion of compressed fruit. Consisting of watermelon, mango, kiwi, pineapple, pomegranate - like drinking a huge glass of fresh fruit juice. 

Attention to detail in high-end places like this always really impresses me and the presentation throughout the restaurant and meal here was just fantastic, with the yellow coat hanger theme ever present, It was worked into the menu layout, the cutlery boxes, the dishes, the receipt and even down to yellow loo roll in the bathroom. Clearly no expense had been spared on the tableware, with bespoke dishes for most courses, fresh boxes of cutlery appearing regularly and even down to niceties such as the geranium Aesop handwashes and creams as well as 'post-poo' drops (snigger). One particularly impressive highlight was the carefully lit service kitchen at end of dining room which added great showmanship to the occasion. You can see from the low table that absolutely nothing was left hidden.
Massively impressive.

Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable dining surprises of the year for me and it will easily make my top 5 meals of the year, I went in with little to no expectations and came away massively impressed. There was absolutely nothing I could fault, which is rare for me. The service was absolutely impeccable, with a mixture of servers and chefs presenting each course with the usual explanations you come to expect in a restaurant like this. Honestly, it was up there with the best service i've experienced - extremely professional yet at the same time it felt laid back and welcoming rather than stuffy and sterile like fine-dining often becomes. I was full of questions as the food being served was genuinely interesting to me and everyone had answers on the tip of their tongue.

The bill came to approx £200 which covered two of the 'degustation' tasting menus, cocktails before and after dinner, wine pairing throughout, coffees and tip. Excellent value for the quality of food and an extremely enjoyable 3 hours in the restaurant. I wouldn't hesitate to go back and whole-heartedly recommend it.
Man Behind the Curtain on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

[On-going project] Craft beer and real ale pubs in Manchester city centre

I thought i'd put together a map to aid all those drinkers heading into our fine city for a session on the beers. I've added brief descriptions of the range of beers, cask and keg options where possible and any other information of use.

I plan to keep this up to date and will continue to add further pubs, details and descriptions as things change over time. If there's anything amiss please do let me know!

Map is embedded below, alternatively here is the link if you'd like to play around yourself:

El Capo - Manchester

El Capo originally opened in summer just as a Mexican themed bar, providing another option on Tariff Street between Whiskey Jar and Kosmonaut for drinks. The premises is split into two floors very similarly to their aforementioned neighbours, in this case with the top floor primarily focused on the bar area and to serve food in on quieter occasions and the basement being the main restaurant area. The design is heavily based on an English twist on what you would imagine a typical Mexican cantina with lots of Mexican influenced paintings on the walls (sugar skulls, sombreros etc), bottles of tequila as vases, rustic tiles around the bar and wooden flooring throughout. It's clear some real attention has been spent on the decor and there were a few lovely touches such as the tables upstairs all having fresh lillies in the tequila bottle vases.
The opening of the restaurant area in late August was accompanied by one of those great stories that adds a lot of 'authenticity' (shudder) to a place like this with a tale of the head chef Troy Almador returning from extensive travelled in South America to learn about the tradition of much of the cuisine he plans to serve. Certainly a lot more impressive than downloading the Wahaca menu and trying to copy as much as possible. For me, the research has certainly paid off as when it comes to the menu they're well covered on both the typical Mexican staples (burritos, tacos, churros and so on) but digging a bit deeper into the menu reveals some more interesting options including prawn and scallop ceviche, pan seared cows heart and slow cooked pork stew. Certainly not your typical fare. 

As you'd expect since they've been open as a bar for several months, the drinks menu was pretty extensive - lots of interesting South American influenced cocktails, several wines and a ton of Mexican and American beers, lots of new names on me and certainly enough variation that a night in here on the booze would be a good time. 
I was so impressed during the first visit that I was keen to head back and try a few more dishes (as well as a few immediate favourites again) as quickly as possible so the food mentioned below was eaten across both meals. On the first occasion I ate upstairs, it was very quiet as I first arrived (worryingly so, with only 2 other tables occupied) and as a result we got some fantastic attention from the waitress who was extremely knowledgeable and helpful with the menu - making some great recommendations. The second visit was made on a busy Saturday night, with only one table still available when I dropped in - reassuringly the service was just as good and attentive which was certainly left a good impression. 

A snack of crispy, fatty long pork scratchings which came accompanied with a pot of chilli vinegar which added tartness. The long scratchings combined with a shallow ramekin weren't ideal for dipping and meant it was only possible to dip a cm or so at a time, still well worth the effort.

"Guevara No. 4"
The waitress did the right thing and warned me I was in for ceviche (raw fish typically cured in lemon and lime juice). I do always get slightly panicked when ordering ceviche as clearly if seafood isn't prepared properly the next 24-48 hours aren't going to be particularly pleasant. The presentation was initially off-putting but the seafood here was all very good flavour-wise, the queenies (baby scallops) were served roe-on which I know often turns people off but I dug in and thoroughly enjoyed it. The prawns and salmon were similarly delicate, the citrus was clearly pronounced in the fish but not over-bearing. The smoked sour cream served with a sprinkling of coriander in this instance.tasted of very little but added a welcome creamy texture to the dish.
"Cartel Pollo" (left in the photo below)
This consisted of two decent sized chicken breasts which had clearly spent a lengthy amount of time marinated in garlic, onion and coconut milk as the meat was so tender it tasted almost slow cooked. Draped with a few slices of well cooked pepper, this was an excellent start to proceedings.

"Prawnstar" (right in the photo below)
Seven well cooked bite-size prawns which had been butterflied and were served red hot still in the pan, lathered in garlic and chilli oil. Great as a dish to share.
"Mi Corazon" (on the left below, shocking photo - apologies)
Pan seared cow's heart which was served with slices of Aiji pepper, a very mild flavoursome vegetable. The meat was one of the big hits of both visits, cooked medium (not that you can tell from the photo), there's no way this wasn't freshly prepared given the cut of meat. 

"Sonora Salad" (on the right below)
A big old portion of quinoa salad, stuffed with peppers, plantain, salted cheese and topped with a couple of slices of grilled avocado - crisp on the outside but still creamy within. The real hit here was the taco bowl it was served in, forget your old el paso wafer thin taco bowl - this was a dream, thick almost short-crust pastry and the whole thing tasted like it had been deep fried to hold it all together in one piece. Absolutely fantastic, I could happily have sat all afternoon snapping pieces of a giant one of these and dipping them into hot sauce. Not the healthy option I imagined on ordering but very enjoyable for a 'salad'.
"Messi-Cow" (cooked rare in the photos below)
An 8oz portion of Argentinian steak which came well seasoned, it was so good on the first visit that I couldn't resist going for it again on the second. It comes with a choice of two sides from a list of 8.
Second time - asked how rare they'd go and the waitress advised blue, I thought this had come back as 'blue' as i'd like, it appeared just touched on the grill but I got hammered on twitter as it apparently wasn't properly blue. The meat didn't taste as well seasoned as the first time but was still very enjoyable.
The four sides I had with the steaks were:
Sweetcorn (top left below) - a full cob sliced in half, cooked to perfection for me (maintaining the crunch to the corn) and lathered in chillo mayo and slices of pepper. A full cob chopped in half made for a very generous portion.
Cassava chips (top right below) - A new one on me, it had that lovely grainy texture of bread fruit (suspect it's a near relative), very enjoyable as an alternative to your typical french fries. The best of the four sides I tried. 
Coconut rice (bottom right below) - this was very stodgy, almost like a side of only mildly sweet rice pudding. 
Refried beans (bottom left below) - standard refried beans, fairly bland on their own but fine with a dollop of hot sauce added. 
I had the nachos as a snack to start on the second visit and they were fairly decent. There were a few toppings to choose from (shredded pork, chicken, grilled meat, chilli con carne or chocolate chilli) and I went with the pork. The chips were a step up from the bland cardboard you often get served but overall everything was fairly dry, the sides of guacamole and salsa helped - both of which were fine but fairly small portions and nothing special flavour wise. They got picked at but not finished. 
"Lometo Completo" 
The steak was excellent, again ordered rare and arrived stuffed inside a deliciously soft bun with a fried egg and mustard making for a really messy sandwich. The side salad served within a few leaves of iceberg lettuce added enough to turn this into a course of food rather than just a burger. The menu mentioned curtido (which is apparently somewhat like a Mexican version of kimchi) and the taste was powerful enough to give a little extra to the salad to keep it interesting. 
"Helado" (Ice cream)
I was intrigued by the idea of the purple potato ice cream but it was unfortunately off for the evening (along with the churros - a shame as it's the 'classic' Mexican dessert) but an alternative of coconut ice cream turned out to be a good choice. Three ceramic skulls were dished up with a scoop of creamy coconut ice cream in each, looking worryingly like it'd been shaped into a quiff (I really hope this was deliberate). There was nothing spectacular flavour wise but looks-wise definitely more interesting than a bowl with 3 scoops of ice cream in.
"Pedro's Changa"
A crispy deep fried tortilla filled with mango and spiced apple which came sprinkled with cinnamon sugar adding a hit of sweetness to a fairly savoury dessert - it reminded me a lot of apple strudel. This was right up my street and the side of Vanilla ice cream in another of the skull dishes rounded things off well.
So overall, I came away on both occasions genuinely impressed by El Capo and it speaks volumes that I made a repeat visit so quickly as this is a very rare occurrence for me (I have to admit the 50% discount they had on for the first 3 weeks did help). I'd been expecting a pretty bog standard Mexican with focus on the drinks but was served really tasty and imaginative food, the ceviche in particular is a bold move for them to make and I wish them well. Based on the full menu prices, I'd say that all the portions were value for money with the possible exception of the prawns. The overall quality of the food was very high and as a result El Capo is definitely recommended.
El Capo on Urbanspoon