Sunday, 15 June 2014

Review round-up - April / May / June 2014

As i'm sure is the case for most people, I find myself eating out several times a week - often just a quick check in at places to prioritise whether they're worth going back to for a full review or should be written off altogether. Some of these quick bites don't warrant a full blog post but are still worth discussing, so below is a journey through various smaller meals or snacks out i've had over the past few months.

Fu-Schnickens - Street food from Leeds
Popped down to the northern heats of the British Street Food Awards at the back of Granada Studios which was pleasantly busy early evening. A well laid out venue for this type of event, with traders spaced out around the courtyard outside and an indoor bar area. I'd eaten from most of the vendors before and was in a rush so headed straight for Fu-Schnickens as there'd been a fair bit of hype about their steamed buns on Twitter ahead of the event. I tried a couple of the pressed pork belly pork steamed buns - the buns themselves were fairly disappointing in all honesty, they were very small and too doughy for me. Size wise they were certainly smaller than similar style buns i've had from Yum Bun and Bao before in the UK. In terms of filling the pork was good and sufficiently tender and the carrot and mooli added some needed crunch but the sauce was so incredibly salty it almost completely overwhelmed the flavours.
Yum Bun and Bao have been successful in London for a while now and in a straight comparison this was a smaller portion of worse quality food for a higher price. I'm used to waiting on street food but over 15 minutes for these buns was really pushing it, I saw a guy that'd cracked a book open to start reading he'd been waiting so long. Pretty underwhelming stuff overall.

Yuzu - China Town, Manchester
I popped into Yuzu for lunch on a miserable Friday needing some hot food to pep me up for the afternoon and immediately knew I'd made a good choice - the room is fairly small, with space for around 40 covers and it's a great looking place, retaining a Japanese theme throughout decorated with bottles of sake and with wooden benches and seats at different angles to make the best possible use of the space. I started with the chicken kara-age - deep fried chicken thighs, still piping hot and just full of flavour. The ponzu sauce on the side added a lovely light citrus edge. Definitely no exaggeration to say these went straight into the top 10 things I've eaten this year.
For my main I had the prawn goyza lunch which came with rice, miso and cucumber. All accompanied with a Hitcahino Nest Ginger Brew from Kiuchi Brewery, an 8%er that was worryingly potent for a lunch hour! I can't recall the last time I went in with little to no expectations like this and was so utterly impressed by a place - i've been raving about it ever since to anyone that'll listen to my ramblings. I've already been back to dig into their offering further and the quality of food across the menu seems to be similarly high, Yuzu is definitely one of the finest restaurants i've been to in Manchester and is wholeheartedly recommended.
Yuzu on Urbanspoon

Panchos Burritos - Arndale Market, Manchester
The Arndale market is a hidden gem for street food type fare for lunches, whilst not the most visually appealing place to spend time there are some solid food options tucked away if you take the time to investigate. The one place I find myself going back to time and time again is Pancho's Burritos. It's very difficult to miss in the Arndale as despite the food court having around 20 food stalls, Pancho's actually occupies two. It does confuse me slightly why you'd ever have two of the same still in spitting distance of each other but I'd imagine this is down to the good reputation they've build up and the popularity they always seem to have small queues at most times of the day. On this occasion I had the new lamb burrito to take away, and as ever it was all prepared with the same attention as usual - generously stuffed with meat, cheese, guacamole and beans. It's cracking value for lunch - with a main, tortillas and drink for £6.
Pancho's Burritos on Urbanspoon

Bold Street Coffee - Liverpool
I feel a little bad for Bold Street Coffee as I went here after I'd been Baltic Bake so was on a high from finding a new favourite so it was up against it to impress me before I'd even wandered in. A fairly typical third wave coffee shop inside with the usual white walls, classic wood tables and art prints on the walls. As you'd hope, the coffee is taken ultra seriously and as a result it's definitely not a place to drop into if you're in a rush. I had a 10 minute wait for a coffee here and there was only a couple of people in the queue in front of me which pushed my patience slightly but I can't argue with the quality of the final product. I had a sandwich to takeaway for the train home and went with the vegan option of the day which was "garam masala hummus" with carrot, raisins and pea shoots. The masala was extremely mild but worked well with the savoury flavours from the hummus. The carrot and pea shoots added some much needed crunch. Overall a decent experience and if I found myself in Liverpool with some time to kill it'd be high on my list of places to sit off in.
Bold Street Coffee on Urbanspoon

Mughli - Manchester
This was my second time at Mughli and it definitely delivered on all fronts, no niggles with service at all on this occasion. I started with the sweet potato chips which seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment - these were flavoured with a hit of chilli and lemon though which worked really well with the sweetness of the potato. The deep fried Halloumi Menander on their own were fairly flavourless but the mild fruity dipping sauce bought everything together. Farfars were great, this time I was fully prepared for the chilli and enjoyed them all the more for that knowledge. The lamb keema samosas kept the high standard, perfectly formed crispy outer and lovely flavoured lamb tucked away inside.
Really this was all just build up to the main of the mixed grill which was just fantastic, the generous serving of mixed meats all sat on top of a lightly toasted pitta. The show stopper was the lamb chop, up there with Tayyabs in London for me. By the time I'd worked my way through the meats the bread was soaked with spice and fat and grease but held together so it was still edible and not just a big dish of mush. Such a great idea and whilst I dread to think how bad it was for me it was absolutely delicious.
Mughli on Urbanspoon

Manchester Central Library
I visited the extremely impressive new Central Library on opening day (and on numerous occasions since) and immediately noticed the cafe just the other side of the main lobby. Needing a break from the office and somewhere peaceful to spend the afternoon, I headed down and took the opportunity to grab some lunch and see what the food offering was like.
It's a fairly standard cafe layout, collect a tray and grab whatever food you fancy from the counter - sandwiches are either in supermarket style triangle packets or larger ciabattas that come accompanied with a couple of sides. On this occasion I went for the cumbrian ham and smoked cheddar ciabatta with Lancashire tomato chutney and baby spinach which I had served with vegetable crisps and a 'crispy side salad'.
The sandwich was good, the ham and cheese were fine and the tomato chutney gave a real tang to the sandwich. I have a weakness for vegetable crisps and these were heavy on the parsnip and light on the beetroot but made sense as a side along with the slightly watery coleslaw side salad. The generous slab of carrot cake was also decent - the sponge was moist and packed with raisins and carrot and plenty of icing. The sandwich with sides plus the cake and a strong black coffee it came to a shade under £10 which i'd say was slightly pricey but the ambience in the cafe was pleasant and i'd definitely return.
I've also been in for breakfast and had the yogurt and granola which certainly didn't scrimp on the topping and was an enjoyable and filling way to start the day for a couple of quid.

Home Sweet Home - Manchester
Finally enjoyed the Home Sweet Home 'signature bake' - the apple pies baked inside a cake. The amount of calories this must contain is terrifying, The pie was a sweet pastry Mr Kipling style pie with those ultra sweet pieces of apple and the thick rich apple sauce all baked within a sponge cake baked to the usual high standards of Home Sweet Home. The thick red icing (just look at how much there is in the middle!) and various sweets on top all added to a pretty ultimately over the top brilliant cake. They tweeted me afterwards mentioning that they sell these cakes whole if you order in advance, what a treat that'd be.
Home Sweet Home on Urbanspoon

Penelopes Kitchen - Media City, Manchester
I went over to the Imperial War Museum for the morning and had a quick wander around Media City to see what was about. I noticed a board advertising Penelope's and recognised the name from Twitter so decided to drop in and see what they could offer me for brunch. Easily up there with one of the finest decisions I made that week, the menu had plenty of great sounding food on it and I treated myself to their bacon pancakes. It came as a stack of four nicely sized light pancakes, with a rasher of bacon hidden in the middle all covered in lashings of maple syrup and with tiny crunchy bacon pieces covering the top - all held in place with a skewer to stop the mountain of food collapsing. It was a fantastic plate of food, all the individual parts were just as you'd want them and it worked together really really well - definitely up there with the best brunches in the city in my view. I also had a coffee, which was traditional diner style filter - I was given a cup and could have as many top ups as I wanted (a dangerous game to play).
Penelope's is fairly well hidden away but well worth tracking down, if this was my work canteen i'd be the size of a house by Christmas. There was nothing about Penelope's I didn't enjoy, it's a great place to sit and spend time - the canteen is decked out with all sorts of random props and lights that look like they've been donated by studios. There's even a huge map where they list the various ingredients and which local supplier they come from. I did see some chat recently about possibly opening on weekends, in the meantime i'll have to wait until my next trip to Media City in the week where I fully intend to eat my way through as much of the menu as possible.
Penelope's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Meatwagon - Trinity Kitchen, Leeds
Receiving a text message saying "The Meatwagon is in Leeds!" is a pretty great way to start any day. I've been having a not so secret love affair with MeatLiquour burgers since they opened their first temporary restaurant in New Cross and started this entire burger craze over the past few years.
They were serving a super stripped down menu with a choice of three burgers and no sides or drinks. I had a dead hippie and it was just as great as the first one I ever had, the mustard fried patties just heaving with flavour and fatty grease. I could honestly sit and eat these all day if my body would let me without giving in on itself and the good news is this was just a taster ahead of them opening a place in Leeds permanently so i'll soon have the chance to eat these magnificent burgers again on the regular. I foresee plenty of trips on the Trans-Pennine Express in my near future.
MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

Duck and Waffle bar, Heron Tower - London
Despite the fact I was living in London when it opened, I have to shamefully admit that this was my first trip to Duck and Waffle. The bar and restaurant live on the top floors of the Heron Tower, I know someone that works there and constantly argues that it's the tallest building in London at 40 floors - the shard doesn't count as it's "south of the river". Londoners, sigh. The journey up to the 38th floor in a glass lift on the outside of the building is alone worth making a visit to Duck and Waffle - some of the views are just breathtaking.
This trip was sandwiched in between lunch at Antidote and an evening meal at A Wong so I didn't get stuck too heavily into the snack menu but did enjoy a tray of oysters and an ox's cheek doughnut as well as a Marmite black velvet (champagne, Guiness reduction plus Marmite). I'm an absolute fiend for Marmite so couldn't resist the latter, it was really odd drinking boozy Marmite at first but after the initial oddness it became really enjoyable. Oysters were generously sized and came with the typical sides to add flavour. The ox cheek doughnut was the real winner in all of this, a generous fat round ball of dough rolled in spicy paprika sugar and served with a pot of apricot jam for dunking. The ox cheek hidden away in the centre was juicy and tender with a little kick of heat to it, combined with the soft doughy body of the doughnut and warming outer sugar it all worked together perfectly.
Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Kimchi Princess - Berlin
I'd had Kimchi Princess on a list of places to try in Berlin the last few times I'd visited but a;ways never made it somehow. I'm glad to have finally made the effort.
I had the Bibimbap for my main, which was the first time I'd enjoyed the Korean classic so I can't categorically state whether it was a strong example or not but I enjoyed it very much. A deep bowl filled with various elements including rice, marinated beef, various traditional vegetables and with a perfectly ripe to burst fried egg sat on top. There was chilli and kimchi also hidden away which added some deeper heat flavours to the whole dish.
I also had a side of 'Sexy Chicken' wings, which I felt like an idiot asking for but was worth that pain. 6 chicken wings in perfect crispy batter and with soy garlic sauce poured over, the remainder of the sauce pooled in the bottom of the bowl for dipping as I went along. The chicken was really well flavoured and this made a great side, great value for a few Euros.
Bizarrely the side of kimchi I ordered was probably the weakest part of the meal - I love kimchi and could sit and eat it all day with no fear for how much I'm going to stink later as a result. This was nowhere near as strong tasting or foul smelling as I'd hoped for, I still polished it off but wish it'd had more of a kick to it. 

Kosmonaut - Manchester
I ended up in Kosmonaut early evening on one of those "let's have a few drinks" days that turns into a right session and I'll be honest by the we left the bar and grabbed a table I needed carbs pretty badly so looked for the heaviest sounding item I could find on the many. I've read numerous negative comments about the pizzas in Manchester aside from Honest Crust, who have disappointingly decided to settle in Altrincham rather than the city (at least they'll be easier to track down now!). So I start this review with a disclaimer that I was 6-7 beers deep by this time but this Neopolitan pizza (with the traditional toppings of anchovies, capers and black olives) accompanied with a half of Brooklyn summer ale was absolutely banging. It came with a nice thin crust, charred on the edges and cooked well enough throughout that it held together and didn't get soggy in the middle. It was clearly less than a minute out of the oven as it was served as the cheese was still in that perfect moment whereby it's hotter than the sun and dribbles everywhere as you try to pull slices away from the pizza. I really enjoyed this and will definitely head back sober in the future to try again and check out the wider menu. As a quick side I also had one of my favourite beers so far of the year in here, Wu-Gang Chops the Tree by Pressure Drop. A pale, light and fresh herby wheat beer - absolutely cracking and worth hunting down if you're a beer fan.
Kosmonaut Bar on Urbanspoon

North Tea Power - Manchester
I'd been craving cold press coffee since I had one at The Barn in Berlin early spring and as soon as NTP tweeted they were working on some I was watching closely for them to perfect the recipe and get them bottled. Their take on the cold brew was spot on, I was impressed that it came in what has to be one of the coolest looking bottles I've seen all year. It was served over ice and tasted exactly how I was hoping, like a chilled strong black coffee with well controlled sweetness so the proper coffee flavours were the focus. It was certainly a very intense hit of coffee. I also had a toasted reuben, I know I had a slight whinge about my experience last time with take out but I have no complaints at all this time, not even the wonky tables could get me down. Definitely my favourite spot to sit off on a summers day at the moment, I hope they keep the cold brews coming.
North Tea Power on Urbanspoon

Beef and Pudding - Manchester
So I did it, I finally did it - I rounded up 3 unsuspecting friends and convinced them that we HAD to order and defeat the Manchester Meet head on. For those not in the know, the Manchester Meet  is a giant beef rib joint that weighs in at a 'minimum' of 7lb (approx 3.2kg) and comes served with sides of peas, carrots and beef dripping chips. I can definitely confirm that this was the first time my main has arrived accompanied with a full sized carving knife! Fortunately I had the common sense to be sat with an ex-chef who carved it pretty successfully and saved us having to hack away at it like Neanderthals. The best thing about this whole meal was that the meat was so well flavoured that at no point did it start to get bland - from the perfectly charred edges through to the beautiful red meat and fat in the middle it was a never-ending joy to eat. Aside from the ribs it was pretty much all meat with a perfect layer of fat throughout. I'll be honest, we almost broke towards the end and didn't manage to finish, the unexpected delivery of a top-up of chips half way through was pretty brutal but we powered through - the unlimited sauces (BĂ©arnaise, au poivre and 'proper gravy') definitely helped me a whole lot. The plan was to go on for a night out afterwards but we were all utterly ruined and just needed to drink a lot of water and feel very sorry for ourselves.
The highlight was the waiter mentioning that we were the first table he'd seen that had actually finished one. On that basis I'm proud to report, that in the battle of Hunger Jams vs food: Hunger Jams won.
  Beef and Pudding on Urbanspoon

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