Sunday, 20 November 2016

Squid Ink - November 2016

Squid Ink
Unit 4 – Nuovo, 67 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester M4 5AB
Telephone: 0161 236 7258 Email:
Social Media: Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

Opening Times:
Wednesday: 6pm – 11pm
Thursday: 6pm – 11pm
Friday: 6pm – 11:30pm
Saturday: 6pm – 11:30pm

Food: 7/10 Service 7/10 Ambience 8/10 ££££

i found resonance in the ethos of Squid Ink. Non pretentious surroundings where you can relax with really tasty food, locally sourced and some good wines, carefully selected, slightly off beat, at a price that won't break the bank. The space is well designed with lots of natural light in a minimalist style, nonetheless comfortable, with an open kitchen so diners can observe the full theatre of the cooking. The approach to the restaurant design has been meticulous and consistent and the approach is carried through to the food

The menu, which is a set tasting menu, changes on a regular basis, providing new challenges for chef/owner Anthony Barnes and this evening had a Scandinavian theme, It represents good value at £25 for 4 courses. It is complimented by an interesting and slightly unusual wines and beers list again changing regularly to compliment the menu, also reasonably priced.

Pollen Bakery’s 100% rye & Cultured butter. Danish Blue. Walnuts. Apple a very tasty combination, dressed with honey from the family's own bees from near Preston

Salmon. Beetroot, Dill the addition of the golden beet flavour here provided a great contrast, although the subtlety was somewhat lost due to the lingering intense flavour of the blue cheese from the first course.

Pork belly. slowly braised in red wine over three days and pressed was probably the best pork belly I have tasted, melt in the mouth texture and full of flavour. Caramelised apple sauce. Fennel. Crackling. Hasselback potatoes were a little disappointing adding nothing to the dish.

The final course was a Kladkaka. a a dense sticky and luxuriantly gooey sort of chocolate brownie Elderberry crème fraîche

A 3 course option is available Wednesdays & Thursdays

After much debate and discussion I tried Vics Secret £4.50 6.5% abv an IPA from Cloudwater Brew Co literally a stone's throw away on Piccadilly Trading Estate Followed by Juan Gil a Petit Verdot from Spain at £25 btl

Expect to spend all evening here, there is no pressure to vacate your table and dishes are served at a leisurely pace as determined by the kitchen.

Squid Ink is a leap of faith on the part of Anthony Barnes. He is quite clearly wanting to share his love of gastronomy with his customers and his passion and personality shine through. Ideally located to service the residents of the existing and planned developments of New Islington I look forward with interest to the future of Squid Ink and returning when the menu changes.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Recipe - Fennel Artichoke and Celery salad

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish


1 large bulb of fennel
1 head of celery
1 small jar of artichoke hearts
2 tsp capers
12 small pitted black olives halved
1 tin anchovies cut into small pieces*
6 spring onions sliced lengthways and diced
i garlic clove mashed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
fresh ground black pepper and sea salt to taste



Halve the fennel and then finely slice (use a mandolin if you have one)
(Dice the fennel feathers to add to the dressing see below)
Remove the tough outer stalks from the celery and dice
Mix the first seven ingredients in a large bowl
Add the garlic to the olive oil and mix well
Stir in lemon juice vinegar and pepper
Pour over salad and toss well
Taste for salt

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

24 St Georges

As recently as 2006 the BBC were saying, "The UK's seaside towns are well past their heyday and will never go back to the way they were.".  Thank goodness for that I hear some of you saying.  

Brighton is an English seaside resort.  About an hour south of London by train, it's a popular day-trip destination for Londoners.  Its broad shingle beach is backed by amusement arcades and Regency-era buildings. Brighton Pier, in the central waterfront section, opened in 1899 and now has rides and food kiosks. The town is also known for its nightlife, arts scene, shopping and festivals and the city’s increasingly sophisticated population demands flavours other than salt and vinegar, resulting in a burgeoning foodie scene to rival that of London.

My destination Twenty Four St Georges, 24-25 St Georges Road, Kemp Town Village which, as their website puts it is "less than 15 minutes stroll from Brighton town centre".

Now Kemptown, the Boho-chic neighbourhood of Brighton, takes its name from Thomas Read Kemp's Kemp Town residential estate of the early 19th century, much of the housing is still of the Regency style and sympathetic conversions of grand buildings into flats and bars have provided some distinctive properties.  It's known historically as an actors' and artists' quarter.

In the heart of Kemp Town is located 24 St Georges, committed to using local and seasonal produce.  European menus change regularly. Each dish is lovingly prepared in such a way as to bring out the very best of these fresh ingredients. Menus are creative but the aim is simple; to provide an experience that guests will enjoy, and food that looks and tastes fantastic.

Twenty Four St Georges opened at the very start of 2010 after only 18 months of trading they appeared in the Michelin Guide and then in 2014 were awarded two AA rosettes.  I was immediately taken by the decor and ambiance.  A warm, welcoming, relaxing dining room with a shabby chic feel.

A quiet confidence exuded from the staff, no one here was trying to prove how clever they were. Explanations were given, orders were taken and plates delivered to the correct guests as specified without further ado.

A selection of breads and butters were offered along with a quail scotch egg, nice touch.

Concise menu; six starters, eight mains and offering two vegetarian choices and two fish. Wherever possible reflecting the best in both seasonal and locally sourced produce certainly brought back memories for me.

My choice for starter; the goats cheese with walnut and fennel granola and pickled apple and pear.  

I could, however, have opted for at least three of the others.  Presentation is both simple and elegant

For main course the beef; fillet with textures of onions, ox tongue croutons, potato rocks* and sauce bordelaise

*Potato rocks; small potatoes boiled, skin on and then dipped in a kaolin clay mixture and baked.  The crisp coating forms a perfect contrast with the smoothness of the potato inside which was tender and creamy thanks to the protection of its shell.

Cheese to finish among which "Brighton Blue" new to me and I went in search of it the following day, sadly to no avail.  Maybe next time I am in Brighton.

Success doesn't come wholly from what you do and you can't define or bottle it, but you know it when you find it. That something special, the friendly reception and treatment of your guests is true hospitality.  I found it here at Twenty Four St Georges.  You can't pretend “hospitality”, everyone recognizes a lack of genuine caring.  It must be heart-felt or it won't have any real impact on your patrons and it won't last.

In a positive, supportive work climate it exists naturally and the climate of an organization always reflects the mindset of the leader. For better or worse, the thinking at the top influences the entire culture. So infusing your operation with a high degree of clarity about what you are seeking to achieve is less about what you do and more about how you do it.

Owner and Chef Jamie Everton Jones summed it up perfectly for me,"When it comes down to it the real reward/addiction is simple, empty plates and really happy customers."

Until the next time!

T 01273 626060
A 24-25 St Georges Road, Kemp Town Village, Brighton, BN2 1ED
2016 Michelin Guide

Two AA rosettes

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Le Gavroche

I had to wait until February this year for my first visit to Le Gavroche. Descending the staircase into the dining room was like travelling back in time and the second empire décor distinctly put me in mind of A.Beauvillier* in Paris, of which more later.

The doors of Le Gavroche were first opened in Chelsea in 1967 by the Roux brothers, Albert and Michel, moving to its current Mayfair location in 1981. It featured in the inaugural UK Michelin guide in 1974, gaining a second star in 1977, and a third in 1982, which under Albert Roux it retained until 1993. At this point Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr took over the kitchens, and it transitioned to the two Michelin stars that it has retained ever since. 

 The ground floor consists of a bar area where you can read the menu and enjoy a drink and a private dining room for six was added at the beginning of 2014 for guests seeking extra privacy. The ‘Chef’s Library’ is an intimate space decorated with some of the huge variety of cookery books collected by Michel Roux Jr over many years, and a collection of photographs of famous patrons of the restaurant since its opening.

While it may bear the name of the street urchin from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, that's where any connection with the overcrowded slums of post revolutionary Paris ends. Offering unapologetic old-school fine dining Le Gavroche continues to be the go to haute cuisine establishment for an extremely wealthy crowd

Our eight course ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ started with soufflé suissesse, an exquisitely light and fluffy gruyère soufflé cooked on double cream: an old recipe from the original restaurant.

The carpaccio of marinated venison, rye-bread toast, horseradish cream and pickled beetroot that followed provided a perfect contrast. For me, though, the star of the menu was the roast scallops, Chartreuse velouté with a scattering of coral crumbs which emphasised the sea-fresh flavour.

Continuing the marine textures with stone bass with a delicate dusting of Ras el Hanout (translated as "top of the shop" a spice mix from Morocco that contains anywhere from 10-100 different spices; the obvious ones here being coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric), red rice and a superb fennel coulis.

Boudin noir, quail’s egg poached in red wine, and crispy mushroom ravioli, accompanied by red cabbage relish was for me the least convincing of the dishes of the evening. The humble black pudding has been named as one of this year's superfoods, however, black pudding is very high in fat, especially saturated fat and the result here was just too greasy and lacking in flavour.

The main course of beef cheek braised in red wine on the other hand was excellent, tender, full of taste and texture, parsnip purée and the sweetness of the miniature Chantenay carrots provided ideal companions.

Le Plateau de Fromages was extensive and presented from the abundant cheese trolley by a waiter whose product knowledge was excellent. My personal formula of a soft cheese, a hard cheese and a blue cheese was amply satisfied by, Comté, a goat’s cheese rolled in ash and Shropshire blue.

Dessert of spiced pistachio and chocolate cake, rum soaked dried fruits and rich bitter chocolate sorbet provided a suitable finale.

The best of the cooking here is very fine indeed.  All the ingredients were of high quality and have impressive provenance as one would expect. There is a strong element to Le Gavroche of a performance conducted day in, day out, especially in the well-choreographed and immensely dignified service rituals of cloches being lifted, trolleys being wheeled and wine being decanted by staff who have had years of practise. 

 Service is extremely precise, with waiters paying careful attention to every detail of the meal.  Service is the efficient execution of a series of actions. It is procedural. It's important, yes, but quite frankly for me its not enough.  What's needed is interactive; an exchange of energy at some level between staff and guests; a genuine human connection. It is something that is intensely personal which is what makes it impossible to standardise it into a process and sadly this was missing.

Full marks to Michel Roux Jr. who toured the tables in a relaxed, pleasant, self effacing way as he does most nights I'm told. How many restaurants have you visited where there is a celebrity chef connection and the celebrity has never even visited the building let alone worked in the kitchen?

A highlight of this visit for me was a trip to the kitchen, we were granted full access. State of the art equipment was to be expected. The design of the kitchen was as close to perfect as I have seen enabling the shortest possible journey from stove to guest and full benefit to be gained from a "Brigade system" developed well over a century ago by Georges Auguste Escoffier delegating responsibilities to different individuals who specialise in certain tasks.

Le Gavroche
43 Upper Brook Street
London W1K 7QR
Tel: 020 7408 0881 / 020 7499 1826

NB You can have the lunchtime prix fixe for £56 (one reason why lunch is always fully booked).  It includes three courses plus canapés, petits-fours, half a bottle of wine, water and coffee. It’s one of the best deals in town and a good reason to return again soon, if one were needed.

*Back to A.Beauvillier. Jacques Chirac, Charles Bronson, Edith Piaf, The Monaco Royals, The Mitterrands, a sprinkling of Rothschilds, Liza Minelli, Elton John and the great Frank Sinatra are just a few celebrity guests you might have been seen in the restaurant Beauvilliers. Owner Eduoard Carlier (left Montmartre in 2003 for that great restaurant in the sky) was a grumpy perfectionist who lived for his restaurant and his celebrity clients. Carlier named Beauvilliers (a former brothel) after Antoine Beauvilliers, not only Marie Antoinette’s chef, but also creator of the first restaurant in Paris, at Palais Royale, circa 1782. He was the first chef to have an elegant dining room, handsome trained waiters, a fine cellar and superb kitchen.  Sadly the restaurant is no more.

Restaurants don’t work on their own, they have to be part of a culture, they must not be intimidated by grandeur and history, they must be part of today, not yesterday. However, especially in London there is still room for the style, the theatre, the dignified haute cuisine that is Le Gavroche.

Long may it stay that way. Until the next time.

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Gin Lab Experience

Almost in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and close by the City Thamelink Station is a tiny opening called Bride Lane where you will find the first working distillery to open within the City of London for over 200 years, just off Fleet Street it combines a working distillery, bar and visitor attraction.

Invented in Holland, gin only became popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. In over-crowded, slum-ridden Georgian London with many water-borne diseases prevalent gin became  a safe  drink for the poor; the opium of the people. For a few pennies, they found entertainment and escapism from cold and hunger at the bottom of a glass. In 1730, around 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled in the Capital each year and sold from 7,000 dram shops. In fact, it’s estimated that the average Londoner drank a staggering 14 gallons of the stuff a year!

By the end of the century, we were at war with France. So, to protect our economy and help the war effort, the government put a heavy duty on the import of spirits and lifted restrictions on domestic spirit production. In doing so, they created a healthy market for poor quality grain – which could only benefit the many landowners who sat in Parliament. The resulting trade also created a rich source of tax revenue.

The effects were devastating. Gin was blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and falling birth rates.  As public outcry grew, the government was forced to take action. The 1736 Gin Act taxed retail sales at 20 shillings a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal.  In the next seven years, only two licences were taken out. Whereas reputable sellers were put out of business, bootleggers thrived. Their gin, which went by colourful names such as ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, was more likely to be flavoured with turpentine than juniper.  At worst, it was poisonous, containing horrifying ingredients such as sulphuric acid.

In 1751, artist William Hogarth published his satirical engraving ‘Gin Lane’, which depicted such disturbing scenes as a gin-crazed mother, covered in syphilitic sores, unwittingly dropping her baby to its death down some cellar stairs while she takes a pinch of snuff.  An image of the social breakdown supposedly caused by gin, which took the blame for a of multitude of sins and consequently earned the nickname “mother’s ruin”.  Binge drinking isn’t anything new and the Gin Craze that swept 18th century London spawned as many social problems and fuelled as much public outcry as similar issues do today.  Aided by powerful propaganda such as this, the 1751 Gin Act was passed. This was more successful. It lowered the licence fee and forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers trading from respectable premises.

A change in the economy also helped turn the tide. A series of bad harvests forced grain prices up, making landowners less dependent on income from gin production. They also forced food prices up and wages down, so the poor were less able to afford their drug of choice.  By 1757, the Gin Craze was all but dead.  Very few gin distilleries survived, and for nearly 200 years there wasn’t a single gin distillery in the City. 

That is until the City of London Distillery opened in 2012. The brainchild of Jonathan Clarke.  We used their gin as our house gin at The Market Restaurant so I was delighted to go along to join a "Gin Lab Experience", to learn about distilling and the different botanicals, design my own recipe and distill my very own personalised bottle of gin (70 cl).

After a warm welcome from Michael and a gin and tonic to get us in the right mood we started by exploring a whole range of botanicals and, with as much  guidance as we needed, we designed our recipes and prepared the ingredients for our own gin.  

Then into the Gin Lab to fire up a mini-still.  The stills named appropriately after the seven dwarfs (i chose grumpy).  Carefully nurturing our gin throughout the distillation process, taking tastings and deciding when to make the cut, designing our own labels and finally applying the red wax to seal.

A great experience highly recommended for gin lovers. perfect as an unusual gift, group experience, team building experience or reward.

City of London Distillery, 22-24 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8DT
0207 936 3636