It’s time to forget Manchester’s ‘culinary revolution’ – and head to Wetherspoons

Big butch gay Oscar said there are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it – he probably forgot to mention missing kids, yachting tragedies, nasty hangovers and WH smiths; but to be fair he has a point. So, I can’t decide which was the better morning of – Brexit or Trump’s victory. Now the initial excitement is waning a little – I’d have to go with Brexit. Brexit was a plus-plus-plus, whereas Trump’s victory was a plus to Brexit – sort of like stumbling on a suitcase full of cash and then a few months later a long lost relative leaving you their entire heritance – including an abandoned castle in the outer Hebrides.

I mention all this not because Wetherspoons was pro-Brexit (I’d never eat anywhere for political reasons that would be hugely idiotic), but only because a certain tribe of snobs roundly despise the discount chain pub – preferring to flitter away their cash on overpriced pompous morsels of floating excrescence shat out of the backsides of giant gastronomic monsters and massaged into conceptual poo shapes by Manchester’s so-called food and culture scene. I dare you. Dance with the devil. Read any ‘review’ on the plethora of online food and drink magazines – (on the one hand, on the other, overall it was) go and you’ll be baffled as to how stupid you and apparently everyone else is.

These tiresome mouth trumpets of top ten lists, launching parades and ultimate countdowns are in essence just favours for favours and cock-sucking advertorials, but even the once mighty Manchester Evening News seems to have given up on journalism all together and is now content with blowing the city’s mediocre food and drink scene. So, it’s time to set the record straight – you heard it here first – the only place worth eating in Manchester is Wetherspoons (second to home, naturally) – and no, I’m not kidding or taking a back hander.

The reason why Spoons evades your culinary kaffeeklatsch is nothing other than good old-fashioned metropolitan snobbery. Curry Thursday, how ghastly, the snobs shriek, I bet the place is full of bloody bricklayers as well, best spend £50 at Vernacular across the street with the civilised educated people who voted remain.

But wait! Is that £6.65 for an 8oz Aberdeen Angus steak with chips and a glass of quaffable plonk? £1.99 for extras? Yes, and a perfectly acceptable steak it is too. You could double and probably triple that everywhere else, add another three quid for chips and £6.50 for a glass of red – if you’re lucky. Is it the best steak ever? No, but neither are those fancy places. Are the walls graced with local dulux encrusted art? No, but a lot of them are in grade-II listed buildings. Will anyone be voting Labour? Probably not, but you can always keep your comments down to a dull whisper – to avoid getting a good beating.

Food, sadly, has become political – and now denotes nothing more than the sad segregated society we now live in. The hotpot and all those other congregations of beautiful stodge are dead and buried, now head to a gourmet burger joint in the Northern Quarter, shout you voted leave and watch the blood sap from their insipid humourless faces. What you stuff in your mouth has always denoted social status, but when once the clients ate gruel and the patrons prime beef, now we’re all eating the same – just some are desperate, nay demanding to pay more for it – oh and make it gluten free, my stomach is pouting in a serene grimace of self-importance. They’re basically saying: I pay more, so I’m better than you.

The liberal worldview is well and truly kaput, now – the cherry on the cake – these ghastly eateries must vanish into the ether and begone – but then again, what on earth would I whine about. Let’s make 2017 even more rebellious and head to Wetherspoons.

Restaurant Review: Solita, Manchester

Food 2/5  Atmosphere 3/5

Nobody will like it, but it has to be said. I’d have said this earlier, but I hoped, nay feared, that I might be wrong. I’m not. I’m right. In fact, there are two things that must be said – because most of us have reached the point of no return and so it’s absolutely necessary to say it. No, wait, three things that must be said – I’ve just remembered. There’s probably more things that could be said, but don’t necessarily have to be said, I might mention them later depending on certain conditions and word count.

Needs must, so first things first. Firstly, ‘the restaurant scene’ or whatever you call it in Manchester is, with a few exceptions, universally ghastly. You’ve heard it here first. It truly is. On the scale of ghastliness, we’re fluctuating somewhere between pompous rubbish and over priced mediocrity with not a few diversions into bland, bewildering and raw. Nobody seems to realise it and that’s because, as I’ve said before, no matter how many trendy places they frequent and flutter with peacock like intent and determination Mancunians, almost without exception, no nothing about food.

So, unless you absolutely know for certain (and this does not include the opinions of your palate numb work colleagues, hipster friends, trip advisor, online sites etc.) – by which I mean you’ve physically gone and stuffed food in your mouth and swallowed it, don’t take the risk – just stay in; you’ll save yourself an awful amount of embarrassment, money and maybe even your soul.

Secondly, contrary to popular belief, Manchester is not the ‘best city in the UK’ or the ‘coolest place ever’ as those ubiquitous advertorial Manchester based ‘culture’ websites are continually informing us. And here’s why: the entire city has been raped and pillaged by humourless faux-liberals and hipsters, who, I’m guessing, spend their free time rimming empty hummus cartons, nodding in agreement over daft art installations, and calling each other white supremacists on the Façadebook.

If these idiots left, well that would be another matter – but we’re stuck with them for now. And so, over the past 10 years Manchester has exclusively been designed and billeted to cater for the whims of this tiresome sub section of society – who seem intent on dragging the rest of us down to hell with them. If, for example, the Northern Quarter were in South Park, it’d probably be called NoMoreNorth or Thereunto or something along those lines. The third point, I’ve concluded, word count and all, is a could be said rather than a must be said; but, being just too crude and nasty – although undoubtedly true – to put down in print, I’ll give it a miss. So, we’ll move on.

Moving on, as you can imagine, when the gourmet burger restaurant Solita opened up a third branch in one of the least trendy areas of Manchester: Prestwich – where I live – I was a little apprehensive that north Manchester would soon be over-run with iron clad morons and my rent would sky rocket and that’ll I’ll have to move to Oldham or possibly even Bolton – thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet; but we’ll see. It turns out that Solita make decent, if a little expensive, burgers. I’ve been three times to the joint in Prestwich, which has this odd exclusivity feel – a sort of, are you one of us moment hits you as soon as you enter the place, exemplified by the blacked out windows which has the effect of a memory wipe, making you forget that you’re in the north of Manchester.

The first two times were deja vu: initial confusion over whether I wanted a starter or not – I didn’t bother; followed by delight and stupefaction when they placed the thing in front of me; then the daunting realisation that I’ll never be able to eat it without a knife and fork; then the nauseating gasp for breath two thirds in – that second long-island tea, a terrible idea; and finally the emotional shameful walk home as you conclude that it’s just way too expensive for a burger; no matter what you slap on it to add ‘value’, a burger is a burger is a burger. A burger is mincemeat, squashed, patted, fried and stuck between two slices of bread – a sandwich.

Blondie came the third time, this time – and possibly the final time.  Blondie and myself have been on a quest to find a decent eatery in Manchester that doesn’t make us angry or regret we were ever born. I should also note that Blondie hates everything other than: pies, fish and chips, fresh southern Italian antipasti, gravy, rare-bit, and cheese. So when her burger came with only a shaving of cheese he wasn’t too pleased.

Blondie ordered the Jack Daddy (£10.90) it was dry, a few mouthfuls short of satisfaction and covered, I mean totally coated, it this awful, sickly reduced sauce, which gave the impression post-eating that she had just quaffed a huge sticky toffee pudding and then smudged her hand over the plate to make some sort of pretty pattern to amuse the other customers. It came topped with two cold and congealed onion rings. I, in no mood for unnecessary condiments, went for the bacon double cheese (£10.90) which also had barely any cheese, was a little on the small side, but not as dry as the Jack Daddy. The whole experience lasted about 40 minutes. On the plus side, the cocktails were superb – even though we only had one each. The place was heaving, noisy, covered in local art and undoubtedly the place to be on a Saturday night. The service was occasional, casual and unfussy – at one point I was almost expected the waiter to interrupt and apologise for not asking if I had any allergies. She didn’t, which was a relief.

I really wanted to enjoy my third time at Solita; I didn’t, which is a shame – because it was a decent way to flitter money and time on a good burger. Those days are over; it’s time to move on. What exactly happened, I’m not sure; maybe it was a Saturday? Is that even an excuse? Probably it’s just become too popular with all the inevitable consequences that follow. And so, the quest continues; I haven’t given up yet.

Solita (Prestwich), 401 Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 1AA (0161 710 2884)

Restaurant review: The Beagle (Manchester)

Food 0/5     Atmosphere 3/5

So it’s settled then. Manchester needs a kick up the arse – a how’s your father, an eke-name, a moniker, a diminutive term of endearment. London has Londonistan, Las Vegas went for Sin City; Bangkok pegged the City of Angels and Berlin The Grey City. It’s more of a US of A thing, isn’t it? We’re not as grandiose, freewheeling, riding off into the sunset to the beat of Fleetwood Mac as the ‘ol gas station smudges into the vista. That’s not us. We’re more subdued. Don’t want to blow our trumpets – didn’t know we had one.

But it’s time here in Albion that our reserved cities, towns and even small hamlets, buckled up and promoted their very own affectionate appellations – Manchester in particular. So, here goes: what about Madchester or Gunchester? (been there, done that) – never again, too nineties. The Rainy City? Boring, and besides, I think Seattle got there first. Cottonopolis? Reasonable and has a nice ring – but out of date. Granadaland? Forget it. Manny. Man Many Manny. Manchesterford? Spluttering and too eighties. Warehouse city. Manky. Manky mess. Manky mess messy? Manky messy public transport?

Obviously, nothing works.

How about a nod to our illustrious musical heritage? Again, out of date – nobody likes music anymore. What tickles our fancy? Drinking – yes that’s it! We love drowning our sorrows; lurching out of watering holes four hours too early, staggering into our hangovers as we hunt down some questionable halal certified eatery.

Eating, do we like to eat? Tough one that, it appears we do. There are restaurants popping like acne all over the Cottonopolis these days. Baying like jackals, a siren call of chain Italian restaurants, fusion street tapas, cocktails with hefty burgers, NQ this that and the other, New York inspired bold cartas brimming with hope – promising anything but Fish and Chips, black pudding, hot pot, anglicised curries and shepherd’s pie. And at 12 quid a smack it better be good – especially if it’s on an Ikea wooden chopping board – rimmed perfectly for collecting those lukewarm crimson juices.

It happened about 10 years ago. Mancunians decided they didn’t really like depressingly authentic public houses, music, bands and all that stuff to do with being a miserable Northerner. No, what really got their rocks off was playing at being restaurant critics – connoisseurs of the palate. The problem is, they’re awful at it. Watching Mancunians go out to eat is like watching partially blind lemmings stumble about in total darkness (obviously with a decent pair of night vision goggles).

Is it a bar or a restaurant? It’s a…look love, there’s some sort of la-di-da fusion food on offer if you can be bothered – the bar’s on the right, near the entrance/exit. Be sure to have a few pints on the way out. In fact, The Beagle in Chorlton, Manchester advertises as such: craft beer, cocktails, terrace, wine and vibes. Notably, there’s no mention of food, and for good reason – it’s awful.

It also appears to be Mexican, which is bizarre considering it’s called the Beagle, instead of the Chihuahua; and the walls are decorated with birds – not obese Mexican birds (I’m talking about women here), just your average bland English variety. ‘The birds’ bring plates of food to you, and the service is…well, they managed to bring it to the table without dropping it among the boozy revellers, which I suppose is commendable. The problem is what they stick in front of you makes you regret not spending it on booze.

The Al pastor pulled pork burrito was bland, stuffed with red cabbage, way too expensive at £8 (two beers, imagine) and almost definitely not spit roasted as advertised. We also went for the Lawndale burger – another £8 – a terrible idea of halloumi and soggy aubergine – the less said about that the better. The pick n’ mix snacks (3 dishes for £9.95) looked like pre bought frozen convenience lumps of charcoal.

After that, we decided like everyone else in the place, to just buy drinks. Only avoid the cocktails, they have really stupid names like Tommy’s Margarita and Jalapeno and Cucumber Margarita and ‘classics’ like Godfather and a whole list of other waffle. By closing time, we were all authentically pissed. I can’t remember, I think we went for a giant £4 greasy pizza at some nasty takeaway – you know, the kind that’d make you cringe if you were the opposite of paralytic. But what could I do? I was starving.

The Beagle, 456-458 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 0BQ. (0161 8818596)

 

Restaurant review: Urban Cookhouse (Manchester)

Food 0/5     Atmosphere 0/5

What is commendable, and indeed ‘unique’, about this place, is that everything they put in front of you tastes of nothing at all; and when I say ‘nothing’, I truly, from the bottom of my heart, mean no-thing.

With a mind-boggling array of new dining experiences seemingly opening up at the rate of one an hour in Manchester, the city is currently in the throes of an eating revolution. Although with abstract names like Artisan, Scene and Poop (that last one’s mine) the casual eater can be forgiven for being somewhat confused even after they’ve paid the bill.

So, once you get over the initial ‘What does that mean?’ and ‘What is this?’ – then comes the even more difficult soul searching question of whether you like any of it. Because it used to be easy didn’t it. Deciding whether you like Fish and Chips. The fish is moist and succulent. The batter light and crispy. The chips nicely seasoned. Or a steak – was it juicy? Cooked just how you like it?

It is of course more difficult deciding if a Japanese twist on Spaghetti carbonara sates your palate; or whether drinking a cocktail with a burger is a good idea; or indeed, whether forking out a tenner for fusion street food, in a restaurant, inside, is really worth the hassle.

Anyway, with a new menu, Urban Cookhouse, located on Princess Street, on the fringe of the Gay Village, definitely falls into the ‘baffling’ category. Baffling, because it claims to bring: Inspiration from New York’ and ‘a taste of downtown Manhattan to central Manchester’. Yet does nothing of the sort.

As you’d expect the place is nice enough and has the sort of urban feel that we’ve come to expect – shiny Meccanoesque patterns; ghostly, slightly camp purple haze with the occasional hint of classical Greece; shiny grey everywhere; high stools you’ll need a stepladder to access; purple candles and dangling energy efficient lights. It’s lunch hour on a Thursday and the place is almost empty.

In fact, it is so dim that we opt for a window highchair. The menu is grey and bleak and surprisingly contains very little. I opt for the Gin Cured Salmon for starter. If it was ‘gin soaked’, then it soaked any flavour out of this sweet delicate fish. It is mushy and bland. (And I’m guessing defrosted about a half hour before we arrived.) The pecans, being earthy and crunchy, make no sense at all, the same with the accompanying pancakes, which were dry and added nothing to the dish. My companions choose the Potato Gnocchi – which was drenched in oil – and the Sweet Potato Soup, which was bland, way too grainy, and came with two dry half bitten morsels of coconut.

For mains I went for Rhode Island Chowder, which contained no clams and tasted – when push comes to shove – of tinned vegetable soup. It came with a side order of cock and bollocks, that is: two balls of some tasteless starchy substance and a burnt stick of streaky bacon stuck in the middle. We also had the Seared Duck Breast, one piece of which was raw, the dish was covered in a sickly sweet marmalade sauce; a burning cinnamon stick completed this uninspired dish – the ash gracefully fell all over the meat.

As I said the menu is sparse, but the dessert option contains almost nothing. With three options, none of which was slab of New York cheesecake, it doesn’t look promising.

Now, I don’t know what the chef was smoking when he came up with Mexican Rice Pudding, or whether I was high when I ordered it. But, it was undercooked and went doolally on the cinnamon. The lovely waitress – hands down for staying positive throughout the whole experience – informed us that the tequila in the accompanying chocolate paste made it Mexican. Maybe, but I couldn’t taste it; and besides, I was expecting something with chili anyway. The Midnight Manhattan, strawberry soufflé, was nice, but the Pumpkin Panna Cotta, you’ve guessed it, missed the mark, and didn’t taste of anything.

Even more baffling than the food, is that the kitchen seems intent on arranging your food into various phallic symbols – possibly a talking point – but personally I only found marginally funny.

The rise of the British cheese industry

“Only peril can bring the French people together,” Charles De Gaulle once said. “One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 256 different types of cheese.” If the unity of the UK has been threatened with the recent Scottish referendum, it might have something to do with the explosion in the number of cheeses made in Britain, which now produces more than 800 unique cheeses, from 150 goat’s cheese, to over 85 different blue cheeses. New cheeses have been created using new ideas, old and new recipes, new methods, and rare breeds of cows.

Despite this why does Britain not have the same reputation as France? One of the problems of getting our cheese recognized in Europe is that most of what we export is by no means the best and is usually of the mass-produced supermarket variety. Secondly, although we produce many unique cheeses we have significantly less producers. In Italy there are 373 producers of Parmesan but only six traditional farmhouse cheddar makers in the UK. Excellent cheeses such as Stinking Bishop, which is washed in Perry to give the smell, is only produced by Charles Martell and Son and in small amounts, whereas French artisan cheeses like Crottin de Chavignol is made by 28 small and large producers.

In the past, cheese in Britain was produced on big farms then came the industrial revolution, which meant milk could be sent to the cities or to factories where it was converted to cheese. We went from having 200 different producers of Lancashire down to 2 large factories producing it. This wasn’t the case in Europe, where there was no industrial revolution and thousands of small farms produced the cheese. In Europe, during the Second World War, small farms continued to produce cheese and were in fact encouraged to meet the short supply of food. However, when Britain sent its men to war those hundreds of farms stopped producing cheese, and the industry virtually died, and we were left with producing National Cheese such as cheddar. The war devastated the agricultural communities while small farms in Europe were less affected.

By the 1980s, because of more extensive travel and a renewed appetite and access to food from all over the world, farmers started inventing new and original cheeses again, which included more uncommon varieties of soft and gooey cheeses, including Stinking Bishop, Cornwall Yarg, a cheese wrapped in nettle or garlic leaves, and Lincolnshire Poacher. Having established themselves, these small farms continued to produce high quality cheeses in order to survive and continued to experiment with shape, texture and colour in order to deviate from the mainstream.  Another important factor was the deregulation of the milk sector in 1994, which encouraged farmers to try to add value to their milk by making more cheese and diary products. As a result, over the past decades Britain has come to produce some of the most unique and wonderful cheeses, most of which won’t ever get to Europe.

Although there has been an explosion in cheese making and an increase per head in the amount of cheese consumed, at 11kg per head we are still way behind most of the other EU countries where the average consumption is nearer to 18kgs per head. Nigel White from the British Cheese Board explains that although many consumers have become more knowledgeable about food “At the same time, many working mums who have neither the time or the money to experiment, have to stick to their old favourite recipes, typically one of five ideas that work for them, or convenience or take away meals.” He also explains that consuming more cheese at breakfast also affects the consumption levels in Europe.

World cheese expert Juliet Harbutt “the cheese lady”, explained the problem is that “Cheese is something you eat not cook with. Traditionalists in the trade persist in promoting cheese as something you cook with and with recipes, instead of encouraging people to just eat it.” Juliet who has done many blind cheese tastings around the world is frustrated that tasters always assume that the boring one must be British but it is invariably amongst the best. She explains “When people have a cheese board in this country, the majority are European cheese, just because they don’t know how good British cheese is.”

However, the rise of online shopping has allowed artisan types to become more widely available and many wonderful and unique cheeses are now available online and at farmers markets across the country. Andy Swinscoe, who owns and runs http://www.thecourtdiary.com says that “The internet has had a tremendous effect on the growth of the industry, with small farms being able to sell cheese and consumers being able to identify with the maker.” And what’s his favourite cheese? “That’s like having a favourite child, it changes all the time. At the moment Lancashire is great, but sometimes its stilton or a fresh goats cheese.” Andy has worked in France and says there is definitely a better support network for cheese makers in Britain and that France is losing some of its farms and cheeses as a result.

“What gets me every time about cheese,” says Juliet Harbutt. “Is that what the animal eats, from wild flowers and native grasses to silage and grains will influence the taste of the cheese from season to season. Often resulting in some bold extraordinary flavours. The combination of man’s ingenuity and mother nature’s miracle – milk – is incredible.” Cheese lovers who want to learn more about cheese and the cheese making process should take one of Juliet’s master classes or workshops.