Trove, Levenshulme

trove2Recently, I have made a pact with myself not to waste my days off. Rather than indulging in a 10 hour netflix binge and emerging in a cloud of self loathing and social media-induced jealousy, I want to spend the few golden hours a week I get to myself immersed in the kind of laissez-faire activities worthy of an amaro filter and 35 likes on Instagram. (Incidentally I have never had more than 10 likes on Instagram for anything so this is highly ambitious).

It was in this vein that I spent my Saturday a few weeks ago perusing the Antiques in Levenshulme. The cavernous Levenshulme Antiques market holds a wealth of treasures, none of which I parted with money for. Antiquing isn’t really about spending money it is more an imaginary, life sized game of the sims where one party points at an object and says something like, “if we didn’t live in a tiny, mouldy one-bedroom flat and had £200 I would definitely get that”, and the other replies “yeah, or if we had a billiard room”.

antiques marketIn order to make up a morning of truly sickening, rom-com montage-worthy perfection, my boyfriend and I grabbed “a bite” at nearby Trove. We chose Trove because of course it is more trendy than a soya flat white drinking vegan with a beard but also because it is directly opposite the Antiques Market and pretend can be extremely hunger inducing.

Trove is primarily a bakery and I believe it stocks a large number of Manchester’s independent cafes, if the ubiquity of their tiny overpriced croissants is to be believed. However, at the headquarters of their enterprise they have set up a tiny, bustling cafe. The atmosphere is not comfortable, it is not a ‘wile away a sunday reading the paper kind of cafe’. The space is minute, as are the tables, many of which are furnished with stools, not the epitome of dining comfort. Having said his, you do get the feeling of eating inside an engine, the steam from the coffee machine fogs the windows and the space s filled with the chatter of conversation. It is exactly the type of place one hope to stumble upon in the pissing rain.

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As to the food, the menu at first sight may appear unremittingly pretentious, as if its creator were awarded points for the number of super-foods he could stuff into one dish, but this is unfair. For the most part, it is not pretension for pretension’s sake. The food tastes good, really good in fact. My salt beef bagel was just what it should be, beautifully soft, pink beef piled high on mounds of puckeringly sharp sauerkraut and pickles served in a soft chewy bagel. My boyfriend had poached eggs and bacon on toast. Unsurprisingly the bread was the star of the show, a yeasty, crusted slab of sourdough riddled with holes and crisped to perfection.

My only gripe was that the earl grey tea I ordered came not as a cafetiere of beautiful dancing tea leaved but a Twinings bag dumped in a mug. This is indicative of a wider trend of coffee triumphing over tea, however, an issue into which I should not delve here. Furthermore, I am reliably informed that their coffee is some of the best.

Cost: £9 a head for brunch and coffee (or tea).

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REVIEW: Hush Brasserie, St Pauls

Hush1A few weeks ago, amid deadline stress and exam overload, I decided to escape to London for the weekend to spend a bit of time with my family. As part of this quality familial bonding experience my Mum and I went out for the day, into the city for shopping, an exhibition and numerous other middle class weekend excitements. Because dissertation research necessarily took me to the museum of London we found ourselves, stomachs growling, in the city of London at 1pm.

gAnyone who has worked, lived in, visited or found themselves salivating in this general area will tell you that the city is a pretty difficult place to get a good meal. It is not that it is devoid of restaurants, there are thousands, but they range from tired chains and 2 for 1 steak joints hoping to attract the tourists swarming around St Pauls, to Michelin starred restaurants where a starter costs more than my month’s rent, with very little in between.

Somewhere reasonably priced not rammed with coked up bankers or tourists sporting squishy union jack head-ware is tricky to find. This is why we ducked into Hush. The younger brothers of the swanky mayfair restaurant, the Hush Brasseries of St Pauls and Holborn are a refreshing alternative to their tired nighbours. Nether the decor nor the menu are path breaking but both are tasteful and comfortably recognisable. The food was not cheap but well priced for the area, with mains coming in between £12 and £20, and the service was impeccable.

Hush2As I was not paying, I did what every well brought up daughter does and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. My lobster roll although perhaps not comprising of the full half lobster promised, was delicious and suitably decadent. My Mum’s pulled pork roll was equally good and avoided descending into a textureless mass of protein unlike the attempts of many other restaurants. Fries were perfectly crisp on the outside and fluffy within and the accompanying salad was simple and well dressed.

The wine list is extensive and covers all budgets and the large selection of wines by the glass makes this a good destination for lunch. All in all this restaurant is not exquisite or mind blowing but good. A safe, delicious and comfortable choice for anyone eating out in this area. Tasteful elegance and fantastic service combined with a simple and appealing menu makes it a perfect place to take parents but because of its locale Hush remains a little out of my price range.

Cost per head: £27 with wine.

Review: A Place Called Common

Common 2Every few weeks I go out for a cheap dinner with friends for a little catch up. As unimaginative as this is, we normally just debate between curry-mile and Nandos, both excellent hangover cures, and both, might I add (although this may result in the confiscation of my foodie credentials), delicious! A couple of weeks ago though the others decided they were ready to spread their culinary wings so I suggested somewhere new we could try.

We decided to turn hipster for the evening and head to the northern quarter, to A Place Called Common. This bar come restaurant is neighbours with home sweet home which I previously reviewed on here. Common is like home sweet home’s elder, more sophisticated and rebellious sibling. Here American diner grub is not only done well it is done with style. The decor is trendy without being so Dr Martin wearing, roll-up smoking and craft beer drinking as to make you feel uncool and uncomfortable. (although they do have a great selection of slightly pricey craft beers).

Common 1The menu is the standard American fare that all aspiring-to-be-cool places serve up these days but with a few interesting additions. A couple of my mates went for classic dishes, both the chicken avocado and bacon sandwich and the maple bacon burger looked delicious. As did their chilli-con-carne ingeniously served in tortilla bowls, and, most importantly, accompanied by all the proper stuff. I had the pulled pork bun with kimchi slaw. It was great, the pulled pork was beautifully soft but with some crispy bits and the kimchi slaw was a perfect accompaniment. I thought they pulled off a clever and delicious version of an over-done, and often badly-done, dish.

Overall I would highly recommend this place. It does fit into the oh-so-trendy american diner category of bar, which is a completely saturated market, but, if you fancy a burger or even a craft beer, this is as good a place as any (and better than most!).

Font Fallowfield

IMG_1210I promised to try as hard as possible to review affordable restaurants in which people can actually eat on a daily basis. Therefore, this week I have chosen to review a bastion of Manchester student life, Font bar. This burgeoning Manchester chain, is most famous for its great value cocktails. Set directly opposite Owens park halls of residence, nestled amongst fried chicken shops, it is not hard to see how the lure of £2 drinks has made its Fallowfield branch the busiest bar in the area. However, this is a food blog and therefore I went with the aim of reviewing its cheap, student focused menu.

IMG_1209I have not always been a fan of font bar, I can never resist a cheap cocktail but I feel it never quite lives up to the hype. The atmosphere is lively but not particularly conducive to great dinner conversation as the music is always slightly too loud. I also loathe having to wait for 20 minutes a the bar to get a drink but thats just because I’m far too impatient!  I think I like the quirky decor although I haven’t quite made up my mind about the half gruesome half cool paintings in the upstairs sofa area.

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A lack-lustre sandwich

Despite the music and hoards of freshers I was still very ready to enjoy my dinner, particularly as I had 50% off vouchers! In this respect I was thoroughly disappointed. I did not enjoy my dinner at all. I had what was described on the menu as Philly Steak Melt: minute steak, caramelised onions and cheese in a toasted ciabatta, sounds good right? Well what I got was steak overcooked to the point of incineration, a couple of frazzled onions topped with a glob of congealed cheese all served in a cheap white bun that bore absolutely no resemblance to ciabatta. To be frank I was pissed off to have to pay £3.25 for it, let alone the £6.50 that it should have cost!! What really annoyed me was the assumption that students are stupid, that we will eat anything, that we don’t understand what nice steak is and we don’t know what a ciabatta looks like. That assumption is entirely wrong, in fact students are probably the most discerning target market, we want value for money above all else. Yes we appreciate cheap food and this does remain one of the cheapest places to eat out in Fallowfield, however, we do not appreciate being ripped off and £6.50 for a rubbish meal is a rip off. Me, I would rather go to the chicken shop next-door.

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The cocktails remain delicious!

Above all Font is not really a normal bar, it is more like a giant pre-drinks at someone’s house. The drinks are cheap, music is a bit loud and controlled by someone with an innate inability to read the room and there are always people falling over in too-high-heals. However, the atmosphere is lively, pretty much everyone is having a good time and did I mention you can get a cocktail for £2?! The only thing you must remember is to avoid the food at all costs unless you are willing to be thoroughly disappointed or are so pissed you can’t tell your arse from your elbow, if you find yourself in the latter situation you’ll probably quite enjoy it!

Cost: £8 a head for dinner and drinks.

Home Sweet Home and The Great Food Divide

IMG_1166Recently there has been a lot of discussion around the great North, South divide in England. Politicians tell us the recession is over, we are in recovery, get back out and spend spend spend. As a Londoner and a student with no real financial commitments, to me this seems a fair assumption. Yet away from London people are feeling slightly different the Northern property market remains way behind its southern counterpart, last September prices in the North were 7% lower than they had been in 2007. My extremely longwinded point is that up north, people in general have less disposable income, they eat out less and restaurants are fewer and farther between. In fact, Manchester, despite being England’s third largest city still has no michelin starred restaurants while London boasts over 40.

Coming from London I have become quite choosy about food. There are at least 50 restaurants within a 20 minute walk from my parents’  house, everywhere you look theres another pop up, food van, trendy burger bar, italian deli etc etc. In Manchester I have not been so spoilt for choice. Last year I was told I must go to Almost Famous the famed deans gate burger bar, a friend advised; “OMG it will be the best burger you’ve ever eaten!!!!”. It wasn’t. It was over crowded, poor service (actually no service), the food was nice but far to try hard and way overpriced. It was just another burger bar trying to be the next big thing. What I am trying to say is not that restaurants in Manchester are rubbish, they are not! Rather that a few trendy places are hyped up far more than they should be as there is less choice. Thus I will alway regard with a weary eye any restaurant described as “the best” or “coolest” place in town.

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I should probably add at this point that I’m rather wary of Burgers, as a food fad they are pretty mediocre. Everybody has eaten burgers before, they’re great: beef, beacon, cheese, pickle, all good stuff  but why do they have to be on every menu, normally in about 20 different guises. We know about burgers, give it a rest, give us Lebanese or Korean, give us something different!!

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You can imagine then that when some one told me “you’ve GOT to go to Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter, their burgers are AMAZEBALLS” I was fairly cynical. I was however, in many respects proved wrong. This small tea-room style cafe nestled behind trendy menswear boutiques and bars selling artisan beers has a lovely homely atmosphere, the staff aren’t too cool to be polite and the interior is not in anyway oppressive. Unfortunately, like most popular places there were far too many tables for the space so the experience was slightly more stressful than it needed to be.

IMG_1164More importantly the food was really good. Luke had crispy buttermilk chicken, simple but delicious. (I should probably add at this point that we went here on a fairy hefty hangover so we went BIG). Despite my hatred of Burgers I can recognise a good one and this one deserves serious credit. I went for Chicken rather than beef and it came with a topping of pulled pork, apple slaw and blue cheese dressing. Pulled pork can be a lovely thing but it again is so over done these days and so often comes as a topping to soggy chips, shredded and mushed up until it resembles textureless unexciting baby food. This was, however, a good pulled pork, it was crisp and juicy, the chicken was succulent and the apple coleslaw was a perfect accompaniment. Also, most importantly for me at the time it was bloody ginormous!!

All in all I would highly recommend this restaurant as a good example of American- style cooking and seriously good hangover cure. It’s reasonable priced, we paid £12.50 a head without alcohol (obviously!). However, never ever go on the weekend or a really sunny afternoon, its way too popular for its own good!

 

 

Birthday Lunch at Wahaca

The majority of food critics only write about ludicrously expensive restaurants. I don’t blame them. If I could eat for free wherever I went, I too would dine at three Michelin starred restaurants every night. Sadly, however, I have to pay for my food, so I review restaurants where normal people can afford to eat, whether trendy new burger bars or Mexican chain restaurants or even my local wetherspoons (where, incidentally, one can get a fairly good steak and a pint for £6- not bad if you’re strapped for cash!)

cs6I was working on my birthday so I couldn’t go for a proper slap up meal. As I only had an hour I wanted somewhere close to the office, inexpensive, with tasty food. I decided on the Charlotte Street brach of the Mexican chain restaurant Wahaca. For now there are only 13 restaurants, all in London, but these things grow so quickly I doubt it will remain such a small chain for long. This particular restaurant had been beautifully done with that perfect attention to detail and “quirkiness” which, ironically, only chain restaurants see to be able to perfect. Like the rest of central London at feeding timespace was at a premium. It was not a relaxed meal but the atmosphere was buzzy rather than claustrophobic. The service was good although I really dislike the way that chain restaurants can’t just stand up and admit what they are. By this I mean, the waiter felt the need to write his name on the top of the paper menu and buddy up to us in order to try and convince us we really were at a Mexican street feast. Everyone knew we were not.

The food however was delicious…

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It was a million miles away from the scores of burrito and taco places that line the streets nowadays. It felt like proper Mexican, I have never been to Mexico and I am sure the food is far superior to Wahaca’s, what I mean is they offer far more than an old el paso fajita kit. My boyfriend and I shared 4 tapas type dishes, dubbed ‘street food’. Their pork pibil was smokey and spicy, served inside soft corn tacos and topped with sweet, sharp pickled onions, yum! Also delicious was the crab tostada with avocado. Less exciting was the chicken taquito, essentially a Mexican spring roll using a tortilla.  It looked promising but had been fried for too long making it crispy and the chicken dry, the salad it came with was, however, lovely.

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Price ££- It wasn’t the cheapest meal in the world but not bad value at about £15 a head including alcohol.

Rating **- All in all food was nice, service was pleasant as was the atmosphere.