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

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Bundobust, Manchester Indian street food and craft beer

There are few things I would rather do on a Saturday night than gorge myself on epic craft beer and Indian street food.

Bundobust, a trio of restaurants in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, serve exactly these two things. Unsurprisingly therefore they've been on the list of places I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time.

Their knock-out selection of craft beer on tap and can includes top UK and international breweries such as Cloudwater, Mikkeller, Finback and Boon. Whilst we waited for our table (it’s primarily no reservations) I knocked back a Cloudwater CY18 Simcoe IPA which did a good impression of thick pineapple juice and a highly neckable Northern Monk Eternal IPA. We also did extensive damage to a giant tub of spiced mixed nuts and pulses (£3).

A pair of excellent mango lassis (£2.75) were thick, tangy, fruity and not too sweet. 

Bundobust's menu of sharing street food is entirely vegetarian and well-priced with each dish weighing in between £4 and £6.50. The kitchen has pedigree too as one of the owners is from the family behind Bradford's acclaimed Prashad. Mrs G and I ordered six dishes to share and even we were nearly defeated by the quantity of food.

Okra fries (£4) were a top drawer beer snack, their crunchy chickpea batter seasoned with a moreish combination of black salt and zingy mango powder. 

Bundo chaat (£4.75) was a riot of textures. Crisp samosa pastry shards and turmeric noodles and soft potatoes and chickpeas were drenched in creamy yoghurt and sweet and tangy tamarind sauce. I found the dish a little too sweet but it was Mrs G’s favourite of the night. 

Gobi mushroom manchurian (£5.50) saw mushroom and cauliflower pakoras coated in an Indo-Chinese sauce with plenty of savoury soy sauce depth and potent chilli heat. 

Two generous paneer and mushroom tikka skewers (£6.50) were marinated in a big flavoured tikka massala, the pepper pieces in particular delivering a fiery hit of spice. 

Pav bhaji (£6.50) was proper comfort food. We spooned the hearty cauliflower, potato and pea curried mash onto buttery and char-licked toasted brioche. 

Finally, massala dosa (£6) saw a pair of paper thin pancakes stuffed with a mildly spiced mix of cauliflower and mashed potato. A big bowl of lentil, aubergine and bottle gourd soup was a lovely dip (even if it wasn’t meant to be). 

We had a cracking night at Bundobust. Their lovely Indian food isn’t game-changing but combined with their brilliant craft beer and buzzing atmosphere it makes for a night out with my name written all over it.

The Details:

Address - Bundobust, 61 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2AG
Telephone - 0161 359 6757

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Burger Shop Worcester review

After a week of eating and drinking in the north of England, there was only one thing we could do on our long drive home - stop for more to eat.

Worcester's Burger Shop is conveniently located in a railway arch just a fifteen minute detour from the M5. Fellow food blogger Soliciting Flavours was a big fan on his visit so it was added to my to do list next time we were in the area.

Owned by Hereford's acclaimed A Rule of Tum, who also run Burger Shop Hereford and The Book Shop, Burger Shop utilise grass-fed 30-day-aged Herefordshire beef. If you're not in the market for cow then they also serve other damn fine sounding burgers including merguez spiced Welsh lamb, momo tofu and kimchi buttermilk chicken.

As we'd both hammered the booze over the last 7 days, we passed on local brews from Wild Beer and Lost & Grounded in favour of caffeine. I had a Diet Coke whilst Mrs G was kindly allowed to bring in a lovely Americano from next door indie Method Coffee Roasters.

My Farmer Tom's Beef Burger (£8.50) was a huge winner. The well-flavoured, nicely crusted, loosely packed, juicy and slightly pink patty was nestled in a soft yet sturdy Alex Gooch challah bun and topped with a generous ooze of tangy mature cheddar, fragrant and cleansing dill pickles, and warming mustard mayo. 

The Worcester Blue (£10) was also delicious. Topped with savoury Worcester blue cheese, roast garlic mayo and a mound of soft caramelised and intensely flavoured beer onions, my only slight criticism was that the killer onions dominated the other elements a little too much.

Sides were just as good as the burgers. Mini Yorkshire puddings (£5), a Sunday special, were crisp and squidgy and delightful dunked in a seriously beefy and oniony gravy.

Deep fried Westcombe cheese curds (£5.50) were a British take on mozzarella poppers. The creamy and super-stringy breadcrumbed cheese bites were lovely paired with a chilli-studded hot sauce.

Lunch at Burger Shop was a delicious detour from the M5. If you're ever in the area then put down the service station Ginster's pasty and head to Burger Shop.

The Details:

Address -
Burger Shop Worcester, Arch 46 Cherry Tree Walk, Worcester WR1 3BH
Telephone - 01905 613498

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Parva Farmhouse, Tintern, Monmouthshire restaurant with rooms review

It’s been just over twelve months since our last visit to Parva Farmhouse in the Monmouthshire village of Tintern.

It’s a meal which lived long in the memory thanks to the hearty dishes of technically accomplished food we ate and the warm and homely welcome we received.

With husband and wife team Roger and Marta Brook’s years of experience as head chef and restaurant manager at the brilliant Walnut Tree, it’s unsurprising we had such a great experience.

This time around Mrs G and I booked into Parva Farmhouse for the night. Having settled into our swish room (£120 bed & breakfast) with beautiful views over the River Wye, we set to work on a jar of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and biscotti before heading downstairs for aperitifs.

Whilst I knocked back an Aperol spritz and Mrs G guzzled a glass of fizz we enjoyed uber-cheesy parmesan biscuits topped with the tang of cream cheese.

Parva Farmhouse’s daily changing evening menu (2 courses £36 / 3 courses £45) consists of a reassuringly concise two options per course. Despite the menu’s brevity there wasn’t a single dud sounding dish. Of course, we ordered everything and divided the spoils.

A textbook warm, soft and crusty mini white loaf was delicious slathered with soft golden butter.

A perfectly flaky fillet of John Dory was bathed in a broth of perfect poise, deftly balancing salt, chilli, savoury, sesame and sourness. Added texture and interest was brought to this South East Asian influenced dish in the form of pickled mustard greens, and salted radish.

A pretty terrine of beautifully soft and sweet leeks was daubed with a zingy vinaigrette and elevated by Middle Eastern inspired accompaniments of delicately charred, crisp and soft sesame bread, creamy and tangy labneh and a mix of crunchy hazelnuts and fragrant parsley.

Mains smashed it out of the park and then some.

In fact, the first dish was the best ‘barbecue’ I've had in Wales save for the legendary Hang Fire. Ridiculously tender and flavoursome fillet steak and spoonably soft beef cheek were coated in the stickiest of bbq sauces.

A thumpingly mustardy and parsley-fragranced slaw provided balance whilst uber crisp roasties dialled the filth back up another notch. Finally, a scattering of funky chanterelles reminded us that we were in a fact in a high end restaurant and not eating the ultimate comfort food on our sofa back at home.

Across the table a sweet and crisp skinned fillet of sea trout was joined by a clever velvety chickpea sauce studded with more of the soft beans. Crisp and smooth textured chickpea fritters, baby courgettes and earthy roast beetroots all added extra interest to the delicious proceedings.

Desserts were both lovely but didn't quite hit the same levels as the other two courses.

A black forest ice cream was so much more than its billing. Light chocolate mousse, gooey brownie, juicy tart cherries, smooth vanilla ice cream and intense cherry sorbet were sat on a chocolate brownie base which was just a touch too firm to make easy work with a spoon.

A deceptively light blackberry and nectarine trifle saw fragrant juicy fruit, light vanilla custard and whipped cream sat on soft and sweet soaked sponge which could have taken a slightly larger whallop of sherry.

Breakfast the next day was just as good as the night before.

Plump syrup-bathed Agen prunes and apricots fragrant with honey, cinnamon and vanilla were delicious topped with pecan and fig granola.

A fry up was a cornucopia of delights including soft black pudding, plump sausages and a fried slice. Team #NoBeans would be pleased by the absence of any soggifying bean juice.

Crumpets were soaked in butter and beefy bovril and topped with golden yolked poached eggs. It’s the first time I’ve come across this killer combination but it most certainly won’t be the last.

We had an awesome stay, dinner and breakfast at Parva Farmhouse; hearty and homely but with bags of technique, this my kind of place.

The Details:

Address - Parva Farmhouse, Tintern, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales NP16 6SQ
Web -
Telephone - 01291 689411