On The Plate: Grub

Where: Mayfield? Near Piccadilly station in a building site with fairy lights
Price: ‘Trendy’ (overpriced)
Tastiness Factor: 2-10
Return Custom: Maybe during the afternoon, if it is nearby

What can’t fairy lights do? I ponder sipping a cool beer sat at a table underneath the scaffolding of a building site. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Hipster faux-utilitarian design taken a little more literally here where the metal piping is used to hold up tables and unfinished buildings. It works though, and the lights make everything a bit softer and look less like a building site. But let’s not kid ourselves, I’m no fool, fairy lights do not maketh the food establishment. That’s the food’s job. And at Grub there’s plenty of choice–if you get there early.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that there weren’t as many stalls as I had expected. No doughnuts or mac and cheese. Some of the stalls aren’t always the same but this was a little underwhelming. Particularly so after I spent the day pining over doughnuts from the Manchester Doughnut Company, that had been there the evening before. Google them if you want doughnut cravings so bad that the next day you will visit every shop within a mile radius of your house on foot in search of any doughnut only to be left empty-bellied and sobbing on a Sunday evening. Or so a friend of mine told me… The moral of the story is don’t believe in everything you see on Instagram. And no, that isn’t a typo, I believed in exquisite doughnuts.

Trauma aside, there were other stalls, six to be exact, and we tried something from all but one. No particular reason for the omission other than the size of our appetites and what we fancied.  We started with a steamed chicken katsu bun. The accompaniment of the warm soft bao bun with crispy katsu chicken was perfectly comforting, flavoured with the contrasting tang of pickled veg with creamy wasabi mayo. There wasn’t enough wasabi to get a taste of it, I understand that it is a difficult flavor to balance but after being used as a part of the description a mild burning in the nostrils would have been nice. Plus there wasn’t much food considering the price.

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Next up was cheesy potato croquettes with garlic aioli.  I’m not too sure what else to say about it. They were obviously great. You can’t mess up deep-frying cheese and carbs and as a spokesperson for mayonnaise with potatoes and a lover of garlic it’s a simple but uber-delicious combination. High on all necessary food groups to induce what feels like a hug for your tum. The contrast of the crispy potato shell with its gooey soft insides maximises texture pleasure reception. (And yes that is a thing!)

The stealer of the show, and possibly my heart, was undeniably the calzone. Fried dough pockets of cheese and fresh tomato sauce. I had never had a calzone before so I think I may understand what Ben from Parks and Rec is going on about now. But I’m quite aware that the calzones at Grub are of a much higher standard than ones that come with donner meat from a take-away that serves curries, burgers and pizza. This came from an Italian food stand whose crowning jewel is the hot oozing pizza pasty, known as the calzone. I’ve certainly been spoilt but I shan’t complain. Some first times are worth waiting for until the moment is right and this was the greatest moment. Lose your calzone virginity at Grub! If you have already had a calzone before, go and have this one too but don’t blame me when you don’t see the others in the same way any more.

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These foods I shared with my tall friend, to maximise our sample range. To fill up and explore things outside of our cross-palette Venn diagram. So I had, to describe plainly, a chicken sandwich. It was much more exciting than that; the bread was naturally gluten free and I can’t remember what it was now but it was big and surprisingly heavy. Filled with juicy spicy chicken with salad and avocado as tasty as it was messy to eat, which is quite. A few bites left and I had to hand it to my tall friend to finish off. It was the best value for money in terms of quantity.

But something was missing. I was craving the sweet release of fluffy dough and sugar. Then I made a mistake. I spent £3 on an upside down cupcake, whose flavour was described as ‘burnt butter’-that is a mistake, not a bold step for baking flavour profiles. It was disappointing and made me feel sad. And yes, that is a pathetic image. But maybe not as much as how this drove me to crying on a Sunday then eating four doughnuts after a bowl of zoodles on a Monday.

Grub is a good shout if you and a few friends can’t decide what to eat on a Saturday afternoon. Trusting that you are OK being ripped off a little, which is the cost of having multiple cuisine options that are high quality. If you go and get to eat doughnuts don’t tell me–or better–bring me a vanilla.

sdr

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On The Plate: Ring

So, this is long overdue. I can blame holidays and work or whatever but what’s important is that it is here now, a review of a truly wonderful place to eat at, Ring.

Where: Bottom end of Chorlton by the big park
Price: Super reasonable
Tastiness Factor: Yummy yummy yummy
Return Custom: Currently concocting my next excuse to be in in the vicinity

I love sushi! It is tasty, comforting, not unhealthy and incorporates one of my favourite foods, fish/shellfish. There is one thing that I don’t like about sushi, and that is the price. Shellfish and salmon are pretty expensive, so that is a factor, plus there is a good deal of skill involved in making the food, ensuring the correct balance of the delicate flavours and keeping the food fresh. So I get why it is pricey but when you are mainly eating rice it can feel steep. So naturally when I started reading about Ring (or Do Ring as it is listed online) I was highly interested in the tasty-looking and well-priced food.

Ring isn’t the fanciest looking restaurant in terms of decor, but that didn’t bother me as even without many people being there there was a comforting atmosphere. The crockery/serving ware was really good quality and everything was nice and clean. It’s cheerful and the staff were very attentive and friendly. One of the best things about the sushi not being expensive is the opportunity to order a variety of things, eat enough to feel full and not worry so much about the bill. The plates were served individually,  with the exception of the starters that came at the same time, and placed in the middle of the table. Rolls were served whole and sliced into six, so good for sharing, plus you know that the food hasn’t been sitting around as it is made to order. Another benefit of this is that the sushi hasn’t been refrigerated; this makes the rice cold and gradually hardens it, ruining the texture.

My favourite dish was the nigiri that was two pieces each of tuna, prawn and salmon. So simple but highly satisfying and tasty. The flavours of the three are individual–salmon is softer, silky and fattier, tuna is meaty and umami while giving a little more bite, the prawn is less rich and a slightly sweet–the contrast of the three allows you to enjoy their unique flavours more than having a plate of just tuna. I shared one plate with my tall friend and ordered another for myself.

I got to try warm sake for the first time which was a really good accompaniment to the meal, plus if you are a fan they have a number of options to choose from. But I would say that I like having a beer or something a little more thirst-quenching and it perhaps isn’t wise to pair the two.

I really enjoyed my meal at Ring and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a high-quality meal where the staff care about what they are doing. If you aren’t a fan of sushi, they also have a number of cooked dishes too.

On The Plate: Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza

Where:The beginning of Ancoats
Price: How can food this good cost so little?
Tastiness Factor: This is what Pizza Heaven tastes like
Return Custom: I try my very best

This review is long overdue. It is probably over a year ago now that I was searching for the best pizzas places in Manchester and I was not disappointed. There were two key results that kept making an appearance. One in Altrincham and another somewhat more accessible to the car-less. Rudy’s. I have since been a handful of times; my desire to go more frequently is dampened by the fact the you can’t book so if you want to go at a peak time, by which I mean any meal time, not just at the weekend, you will be waiting about 40 minutes for a table. Even for two people. Now if you plan well, you can go for an early dinner or put your name down at the door and have a couple of beers at the nearby bars. Or if it is sunny, buy your beverages from the shop and sit in the square. Is it worth it? Oh my God, yes!

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The key to Rudy’s is simplicity. Minimal decor, just enough so that you don’t feel totally like you are in an empty garage. A menu of a few key items: no starters, just pizza, drinks and a couple of extras like olives. Price-wise, the drinks are what you would expect, but for one of the best meals you can have in Manchester the pizza is a steal. Albeit, pizza being of a few basic and cheap ingredients, this comes in under the regular takeaway cost with about 125% more flavour and undeniable authenticity. This pizza is traditional, made with the very best of the ingredients. No stuffed crust or chips and gravy topping. The margherita (only £5.90 for a good meal-sized pizza) is my favourite. It’s pretty magical what they can do with cheese, tomato and flour.  I recommend sharing a side salad with someone for a bit of green and to have the bitter pepperiness of the rocket to contrast with sweet tomato sauce.

There is something very special about this food, there is love and pride in that dough and I can’t help but feel lucky to live near it. A lot of Manchester’s dining stars are places that fry or load or fuse things together. Hundreds of flavours in a single calorific dish is the going game. To find something so good and different is refreshing. Their food and the experience is wholesome. It’s the Church of Pizza where fresh ingredients are at the altar of worship.

If you are a celiac then this won’t be for you, but there are veggie/vegan concessions. The food is pretty kid-friendly, there is no separate menu but you can share pizza with them. Other than all of this, I’m not sure what else to say so I not going to over-elaborate on things because that isn’t their style. Only: Go to Rudy’s! Go in your jeans on a Sunday with your family. Go with your date on an evening. Share with your friends the best version of the food that everyone loves. And leave with a full tum and undamaged wallet.

On The Plate: Cabana

Where:The Corn Exchange
Price: Expensive for what it is, but won’t actually cost too much
Tastiness Factor: ★★★
Return Custom: Nah, I’m good thanks

Shopping for specific clothing items can be exhausting. Particularly when one has monetary, shapely and time constrictions. Sitting down to have a bite is a point of relief from this. A moment to chill, where you buy what takes your fancy and don’t have to worry whether or not it suits you, only maybe if it makes you look fat. Cabana is alright. Not as chill as I was looking for, the music was a bit loud for a quiet Wednesday afternoon and with this came a pressure that I should be having ‘fun’. I was having a nice time but it was Wednesday, not Friday, I’m here to eat rather than let loose.

I’m going to start with the drinks. With a ‘girly’ shopping trip comes a desire for cocktails. I blame Sex and the City and possibly some kind of feminist power derived from drinking a sweet but highly alcoholic drink from a small straw known as a ‘cocktail’. It was unimpressive size-wise, but very nice. Not really worth the 2 for 1 offer and certainly not a worthwhile purchase full price. I followed this with a pint of Brahma, it was nice and more reasonable. Plus I was able to then establish myself as the alpha/butch one at the dinner table between myself and lady friend.

There isn’t too much that I can say about the food. Partly because I ordered fairly simple things and also because there just wasn’t that much. I went for a ‘street food’ dish option of fried calamari. Quite nice, not the best I have ever had but perfectly enjoyable. It was light and crisp, with a sharp bit of lime. It came with a garnish of sad greasy leaves that I ate out of spite due to the disturbingly small portions. Speaking of which, I paired this dish with a side of sweet potato fries, quite nice, but there was a happy meal-sized portion of them. I paid £4 for these. I would have been more satisfied by folding a fiver into a crane, setting it on fire and watching it drift off in a murky pond. But no, I had about 3 fries instead. Potatoes don’t even cost anything! The coleslaw was of a better size and perhaps the most interesting of the offering, it had a slightly mustard hint. But there wasn’t anything to really eat it with, there not being many fries or leaves, so it was kind of rich on its own. The guac was lovely, good and fresh, and warm having been made recently with ripened avocado.

This is a hard one to really go at and drag the receipts on because it only cost about £23, considering I had two drinks that isn’t loads. But I was unsatisfied with the portions, which in turn attributes value to the food. I really am bitter about those sweet potato fries. And honestly it is pretty stingy for a chain to cut back in such a way. My friend had a ‘meal-sized’ dish and that was pretty scrawny-looking. The food was nice, the staff were friendly, but I wouldn’t go back. It was nothing special. There are better places. And I deserve them.

 

On The Plate: Yo! Sushi

This week’s serving of culinary critique is a familiar constant in my own dining experiences around Manchester. This being the place I had lunch with my mother when scouting the university I would one day learn at, where I would eat independently in a restaurant for the first time and now is a place that delights and comforts me (somewhat like re-watching A New Hope).

Where: The Arndale, opposite Next along from the Disney store
Price: If you are smart about it not too much, if you order whatever you fancy you may need to take out a loan
Tastiness Factor: 25-100
Return Custom: Where else would I eat on a Monday?

Picture this: You are flush with the payday IV, fresh cash oozing in your bank account healing the economic wounds of the previous week, you earned this. You deserve to TREAT YO SELF. Three deadly words. A quick blade to the throat of whimpering student loans. But who can treat you better than yourself? You exactly what you want so give it to yourself. Now the Arndale is a busy and bustling place but if you are after a treat this is where you will find one.

After finding that special something for your special someone (you). You’ll be tired and hungry. As an individual I have never had to wait for a seat at Yo! Sushi. They can usually squeeze you in at the bar and when it’s busy you get the satisfying feeling of being sat before the party of four in front of you. There seems to be a lot of pressure around eating alone but Yo! Sushi is busy with moving plates and the dual sided bar seating so you won’t feel awkward to be alone. Plus you may get sat opposite a mirrored pillar so you can spend your meal checking yourself out. So not only will you be sat quickly but with the conveyor belt of delight, bringing tempting dishes right to you, you can start eating as soon as your butt hits the seat.

I feel now is a good point to issue a quick public service announcement: Monday is the day to go to Yo! Sushi, unless you are made of money or like spending a black market kidney’s worth on a 30 minute meal. I popped in on Sunday the other day for a light-lunch with my tall friend who had eaten earlier. I had a few green plates, playing it conservatively, I just needed a tasty bite to eat. A total of coming to around £7. My tall friend, spent about £15, having a couple of snacks. But, when it is Monday it’s no sweat, as a wide selection of dishes are £2.80, including the pricer sashimi plates. So you can fill any sized tum at a reasonable price.

Now what’s what? For those less familiar with Yo!’s offerings or wanting a recommendation here are some of my favourite dishes that are currently available on blue Mondays:

The Dynamite Roll: Crunchy dried onions, sriracha spice and meaty tuna. A relative newbie to the scene but bringing its all. No additional sauces required and this maxes out on flavour and texture.

Now sushi, in general is about delicate flavours. Salmon sashimi and avocado maki (also recommendations) won’t take you to Guy’s fatty- salty- sugary flavour town but will highlight their own flavours. When the ingredients are this fresh and high quality you don’t need additional salty soy or fiery wasabi. While the two accompaniments are nice to offer some variety, sushi rice itself is already seasoned and each thing has its own palate to enjoy.

Tofu Katsu Curry: Tofu is a divisive thing, many curl their nose up without even trying it first. As someone who doesn’t each much meat other than fishes and birds I dabble in the world of protein alternatives (meat subsites). Tofu is an elusive temptress, done right and it is a silky delicious accompaniment but it’s also very easy to do wrong where you end up chewing on a soggy bit of sponge. This tofu is right, very right. Soft on the inside, crispy on the outside topped with a fancy chip shop curry sauce on a bed of soft sticky sushi rice. Mmmm.

Yo! Sushi is tasty and convenient, played right it can also be reasonably priced. Whether you are a raw fish fan or not, you can sit down to plate after rotating plate of tasty goodness with unlimited fizzy water!

On the Plate: The Mexican Standoff

So last week was dry, in between migraines, magical trips* and work based weariness, my few hours set aside for writing were scuppered by mac maintenance. And it’s not like I don’t have anything to say, I have see, done and reflected on matters worthy of note. A least for on here anyway.

In some ways this next review could be considered a magnum opus of food critique as I detail experiences of not one but three Mexican restaurants. I’m at risk of overselling this if I waffle on any longer so here it is:

El Capo
Where: Northern Quarter, naturally
Price: ££
Tastiness Factor: 4 pints of drool
Return Custom: Most certainly

The Beagle
Where: Chorlton
Price: It was an expensive lunch but had it been dinner it would have been OK
Tastiness Factor: Heightened by severe hunger
Return Custom: Already been back

Taco Bell
Where: Arndale food court, wherever you can fight to get a seat
Price: Cheap
Tastiness Factor: Haha
Return Custom: Unlikely

I think that it’s best not to delude ourselves before we go into this, most experiences of Mexican food we will have in this country are imitations of the USA’s interpretation of the cuisine. Despite Danny Trejo’s endorsement, Old El Paso fajita kits aren’t a tradition of the Mexican diet, in fact they come under the branch of Tex-Mex. The fusion of northern and southern continental American flavours. But I’m keeping the title. Love a little drama.

I love burritos. They are a whole meal, with each tasty food group, wrapped up in a soft carby blanket. It’s satisfying and comforting while making you feel vaguely metropolitan and exciting the buds with a variety of textures and complementary flavours. To say that at Taco Bell ‘I had the worst burrito I have ever eaten’ isn’t too strong a statement as it was still a burrito. Kind of like the saying ‘bad pizza is still pizza’ and therefore good compared to other foods – although slight tangent, I have been served some inedible takeaway pizza before – a bad burrito is still kind of nice. There was soft meat, rice, cheese etc. But none of it was that good. The tortilla was cardboard-y, the cheese was that pre-grated powdery stuff that didn’t really melt, the salad was sad and the only saving grace was the juicy chicken that there just wasn’t enough of. I ordered a Big Bell Box, so even though the burrito wasn’t all that satisfying I had some fairly decent fries (coated in what was probably a bit of paprika, salt, pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne), a very miserable taco, a drink and some churros. The churros were surprisingly decent. It turns out making sweet deep fried dough tasty isn’t too hard.

Churros are perhaps the most obvious Northern Americanisation of Mexican food, elongated crispy donuts; they actually have origins in Portugal. But I have now come to expect them on a Tex-Mex menu and although I’m not a dessert person I get moist in the mouth at the thought of them. I’m at risk of becoming a little graphic now but I have no other way to describe the churros at The Beagle in a way other than orgasmic. I don’t want you to read that in the way someone might groan over a chocolate fondant pudding on MasterChef because this was much more than that. As the French say ‘la petite mort’, I did in fact die momentarily that day at The Beagle. As a sweet crispy cinnamon fried shell gave way to soft warm fluffy insides upon my tongue it was, only what this humble atheist may hope, a glimpse of what heaven feels like.

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The Beagle

The Beagle has many other delicious offerings. Working backwards: ice cream from Affleck’s palace establishment Ginger’s Comfort Emporium is available but there was no Chorlton Crack when I was there, mains are various burger/taco/burrito options with tasty sides, and starters come in the wing and nacho variety. Fairly similar to the El Capo Offerings. To set the scene, my tall friend and I arrived at The Beagle, weary after a 2 mile walk to Chorlton in promise of the 20 inch pizzas and poutine by Brewski only to be fork-blocked by a kitchen without power. It’s fair to say that we were hungry. Which may be why we ordered wings, tacos, a burrito, loaded fries and then dessert. Excessive but does put me in a good position to review a range of the food. The tacos were a bit mealy, dry and over siriracha-ated. The wings were big and tender but the seasoning wasn’t to my taste, there was a herb in the mix – maybe thyme – that didn’t quite work for me. The fries loaded with Bovril and beef brisket had the thumbs up from my meat-eating friend as did his juicy and well stuffed burrito. In whole pretty enjoyable but I would be going back for the churros and good selection of on tap beer rather than the main menu.

El Capo is a beast. The restaurant is below the bar in a basement. Typically Northern Quarter with exposed red brick and solid wood tables but don’t let me misinform you, this isn’t a Mexican Home Sweet Home, El Capo serves great big dirty portions and hundreds of different tequilas under red lights. This is the place to commit your dietary sins, I recommended starting off with the Almojabanas which are gooey fried balls of cheese seasoned with chilli. The nachos are a good call too, real cheese not the goopy orange sauce, and pleasingly well-dispersed fresh, plentiful toppings. A couple of cocktails and crisp beers are good accompaniments to the fattening delights. Even if, like I did, you go for the chicken breast and avocado salad you still get the option of a side and like the weak person I am, at the mercy of cheesy goodness, I had some mac and cheese. My tall friend, on the other side of table, not having much of an appetite ordered the Big Ass Chilli Burger. Of the few times I stop to take pictures of tasty food, this was one. He ate most of it with the exception of the bun and the fries that I helped him with.

At the end of the meal we were both so full that we needed to be shovelled into a cab hugging leftovers. I didn’t even think about the possibility of churros until I got home. I loved everything I consumed and after a totally healthy Instagram browse I think that, after being underwhelmed many a time, I am ready to trust in tacos again. I can’t wait to go back, the only things stopping me are the fluctuating ability to comfortably button my jeans and having an available night.

So there you have it, the good, the great and the meh. Not in that order but I was trying to do a bit of a thing. Thank you for reading On The Plate. I hope that you feel informed and entertained. See you next time!

xoxo

Gossip Girl

Grace

*Re-visited the Harry Potter Studios

 

On The Plate: Bundobust

This week’s dish comes to you from an inner city basement! Which is a surprisingly lovely locale for a more than lovely dinner…

Bundobust

Where: In a basement next to the Subway that’s opposite Piccadilly Gardens
Price: Reasonable
Tastiness Factor: 110%
Return Custom: Mentally planning another trip to eat the other half of the menu

Apparently not everybody does like chicken. Those people are called vegetarians. Even if you do love chicken and meat, not eating those things isn’t a bad thing and in some ways good. Particularly if not eating meat means that you get to sample the delicious offerings of Bundobust!

The words ‘small plates’ may induce fear in some. Experiences of pricey tapas, having to order many dishes to feel full and the obvious hazards and woes that come with sharing food spring to mind. Bundobust does small plates (more accurately small card tubs), there is no pretence of sharing unless that’s what you fancy and a single larger dish of £6 paired with rice £1.50 is plenty for a tasty lunch or lighter dinner. My tall friend and I ordered 6 dishes all together, sharing a few and just having a taste of others, with a couple of beers totalling £43. Now I’m not obsessed with price, but I’ve been stung before by the lure of ‘small plates’, so a little over £20 for a very tasty, filling meal and some unique beer is a decent price.

It is important to take a line or two here to mention the beer as they only have about 5% of what’s on offer on their menu. Bundobust’s ‘thing’ is modern veggie curries, a relaxed setting and a surprisingly large variety of beer. There are other drinks including Indian inspired cocktails like the Mumbai Mule, having not tried any yet I can only recommend the Bombay Dazzler, Bundobust’s signature beer. It’s light, refreshing and slightly savoury in taste, an excellent palate cleanser as you try the different rich and aromatic dishes.

I’m not really sure where to start with the food because it was all so good. Perhaps one of the more important points to make is that this is a different style of Indian food that you will get on the Curry Mile or from a takeaway. It’s really nice to try food that isn’t a meat in a different style of spiced sauce with rice and a naan. I love a traditional curry but I can have that at home in pyjamas; if I’m making an effort to leave the house I want to experience something new. The best comparison I have for the food is to Mowgli in the Corn Exchange, minus the pretentious setting, but a little more on the comfort side of food. The Vada Pav burger, for example, is a spiced soft ball of mashed potato fried and sandwiched in a brioche bun. Like a fancy chip butty.

I feel I’m at risk of boring you because I could quite easily describe each menu item I tried and what I liked about it. You may not love everything about all the dishes on the menu but they are full of flavour and made with passion. And as I mentioned the plates are small, so if okra fries aren’t your bag get your friend to finish them.

A brief dining experience evaluation: Food is served in card tubs street-food style, the cutlery is plastic but the fancy biodegradable sort and it feels nice. You do go up to the till to order food but the till is at the bar so it really just incorporates picking out a beer. Along with the big tables and squishy benches, this makes for a pretty chilled out atmosphere. Somewhere you could quite easily come with a group of mates for the night, ordering beers and dishes as you like. There aren’t many things that Northerners collectively love but beer and curry can bring them together, so take them to Bundobust.

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Post-work day beer and very serious food evaluation.