Saturday, 24 August 2019

Mana, Manchester restaurant review

I’d love to visit Noma one day but it costs an absolute wedge and I’ve read a few mixed reports about their food which often sounds more interesting than delicious.

So, when I heard that a former Noma chef was cooking blindingly good food in Manchester for a sixth of the price, Mrs G and I planned a trip up north quicker than you can say “edible ant”.

Owned and run by chef Simon Martin, Mana is located in the trendy Manchester neighbourhood of Ancoats. Martin didn’t just do a couple of weeks work experience at Noma - he was a permanent chef there.

We visited Mana on a Saturday lunch when they offer an eight course tasting menu for £50. If you visit during the evening their thirteen course tasting menu will set you back £105.

Seeing Cloudwater as the only brewer of choice on the menu put me in a good mood. If you’re around the corner from one of the UK’s best breweries then why wouldn’t you make them your house beer?

During the meal I knocked back a chewy, soft and juicy IPA (£8) and an even better double dry-hopped pale ale (£8). Mrs G worked her way through the wines including a couple of glasses of apple and citrus-packed Huré Frères grower champagne (£15). 

Perched at the bar, a tribute to a mug of Bovril felt like a fittingly northern way to start the meal. A cup of mushroom and seaweed broth delivered huge savoury notes with added fragrance from a bouquet of elderflower and lemon verbena. 

The standouts of a plate of excellent charcuterie were a deeply spiced venison salami and a smoked duck prosciutto. 

A riff on a pork scratching saw a light puffed piece of skin dusted with umami-rich cep powder. 

Snacks complete, we moved to the dining room. And what a dining room it is - high ceilinged and minimal, it looks straight into a sleek open plan kitchen where you can watch the team calmly at work. 

Many of the dishes at Mana are served by the chefs with a number of plates finished table-side. It adds a performance-like quality to the meal making for some of the most fine-tuned service I’ve encountered. 

Our first proper dish bore a stronger likeness to something from Avatar than a plate of food. Nestling on the floor of a blooming forest was a crisp flatbread topped with fragrant juniper creme fraiche and a kaleidoscope of edible flowers. 

A briny oyster cooked in meaty chicken fat was a clever take on surf and turf. Wrapped in a cabbage leaf and joined by the crunch of chicken skin and savoury hit of peaso (a British miso made with peas), it reminded me of a sushi roll. 

The meal’s standout was a melt in the mouth piece of yakitori eel. The caramelised fatty fish was balanced by the sweet and savoury zing of a sticky blueberry vinegar and yeast glaze. 

An acidic broth of elderflower and lacto-fermented tomatoes (answers on a postcard please) was neutralised by dollops of a sweet and intense semi-dried tomato reduction. Vivid green broad beans with plenty of bite and a salty hit of caviar added extra oomph. 

Prior to our main course we were presented with hefty steak knives. Duped into expecting a serious hunk of meat, we were instead presented with barbecued greens which were just as meaty as a steak. Crisp and tender with a lovely lick of char, the leaves were bathed with a seriously rich and savoury combination of dehydrated scallop, beeswax paste and garlic butter. 

First rate homemade sourdough and golden cultured butter were served on the side as mop for all that ‘meaty’ goodness. 

Once again, vegetables were put front and centre for our second meat dish. A canopy of leaves covered a salad of fresh summer greens and radish bathed in a vibrant herbal dressing. 

Served on the side was the main event, an intensely flavoured and spoonably soft piece of seaweed-fed hogget to share. Dressed with a glossy mushroom glaze containing plenty of rich and meaty roasting juices, it was punctuated by the acidity of ransom capers. 

Dessert, a mini magnum, was a step up from Walls. Filled with delicately floral grilled rose ice cream and coated in milk chocolate, the kicker was a caramelised fermented rice sauce which added salty, savoury and sweet complexity. 

We loved Mana. Their flavour-packed food is brilliantly creative but deliciously familiar rather than challenging. It’s my favourite meal so far of 2019 and they deserve all the accolades, including that one from a certain red guide which has overlooked Manchester.

The Details:

Address - Mana, 42 Blossom St, Manchester M4 6BF
Telephone - 0161 392 7294

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Blue Honey Local, Roath, Cardiff vegan restaurant review

Located on the former site of City Road's sadly departed Milgi, Blue Honey Local is the all-vegan younger sibling of Cardiff's uber-trendy Blue Honey Night Cafe.

This bar meets cafe meets restaurant meets late night spot also shares a venue with Eartha, a florist. With its large glass windows and all those plants it's like sitting inside a terrarium.

I drank a highly neckable Pipes California Pale whilst Mrs G guzzled a couple of buckets of house white wine. If you're not in the market for booze then they also make their own tasty sounding ice teas and kefirs. 

Blue Honey Local's menu comprises of a compact selection of well-priced Asian and Middle Eastern inspired street food. The most expensive dish on the menu costs £4.50. We ordered six dishes to share and it was plenty for the two of us. 

The star of the show were crispy and squidgy cheung fun (£4.50). A bit like gnocchi, these rice noodle roll pieces were bathed in sweet, salty, spicy and familiarly comforting hoisin sauce.

Squidgy bao buns (2 x £3.50) were stuffed with lightly battered tofu, cleansing cucumber and a potently peppery and spicy black pepper sauce.

Vietnamese rolls (£4.50) were rammed full with crisp veggies including fine batons of carrot, courgette and pepper. The freshness of mint and crunch of peanut added extra vibrancy whilst sweet chilli sauce brought zip and zing.

A crisp cucumber salad (£3.90) was bathed in a mild chilli oil dressing tempered with a creamy note (sesame perhaps?). I think it could have taken a much bigger hit of chilli but it was one of Mrs G's favourite dishes of the night and she's a chilli wuss.

Finally, nicely charred hispi cabbage (£4.50) with a good bite was drizzled with a spicy and citrusy nam prik dressing. You got a lot of brassica for your buck.

Mrs G and I really enjoyed our meal at Blue Honey Local. They serve the kind of spice and flavour-packed vegan food which doesn't make you miss meat. With its atmospheric plant life and friendly service, it makes for a lovely spot to hangout.

The Details:

Address - Blue Honey Local, 213 City Road, Cardiff CF24 3JD
Telephone - 029 2019 5463