Our writers and staff choose their favourite dishes from January

Another new year, another month, another round of dishes that held our taste buds to ransom. The Manchester Confidential writing staff (and lesser-spotted species from the likes of social media and technical) share their favourite dishes from January.

2024 01 19 Savages Review Popcorn Mussels 2
Popcorn Mussels from Savages Mussels Bar (£9.50) Image: Confidentials

Popcorn Mussels, Savages Mussels Bar, Macclesfield (£9.50)

Beardy, hermetic and maybe not to everyone's taste, I feel an affinity with mussels. 

Squeezed into a small unit between a barbers and The Castle pub, Savages Mussels Bar is snugly ensconced in its new premises after stints as a pop-up and, latterly, in the Macclesfield Picturedrome food hall. 

There for lunch on a snowy Tuesday, I began by ordering an intriguing starter; popcorn mussels (£9.50) with pickled carrot, pickled red onion and a strawberry chilli jam. As much as I love deep-fried foods of almost any variety, it's not enough to simply drag animal, vitamin or mineral through some flour and fling it in hot oil.

Savages clearly understand that. The flour was dusted liberally with cumin, turmeric and paprika and the plump mussels coated well so that when they arrived they were an enticing golden brown. Coupled with the lurid pink, orange and red of the pickles and jam, it made a pretty plate of food. 

The taste of cumin especially rang through beautifully, offsetting the potentially samey flavours of mussels and fry batter. After all, it is pretty much all you're going to eat, so you want to be sure you won't be bored in four mussels' time. I certainly wasn't. If anything I was casting my mind forward to the moules marinière and wondering if I was perilously close to filling up. I ordered the moules and eagerly finished the ones in front of me, piling the pickles atop a jam-drenched moule.

Call it a Macclesfield canapé.

David Adamson  @davidadamson123

2024 02 08 Dotm Js Prawns
Tempura prawns from Dakota Grill, Manchester (£12) Image: Confidentials

Tempura prawns, Dakota Grill, Manchester (£12)

Dakota Hotel is a hop, a skip and a jump from Piccadilly Station which has possibly the worst catering in any mainline British station, but that's a rant for another occasion. 

The Dakota hotel building has a darkly powerful presence that brings a moody thrill to Ducie Street’s mish-mash of architecture. The restaurant continues the theme, the ambience driven by the sultry lighting and the judicious use of spots. A bonus is the scale of the place which means loads of legroom; a boon when you’re over six foot. The music is happily not too loud. Chatter is encouraged. 

The food is very good and I could have chosen a couple of dishes but I’m going for something deceptively simple, the tempura prawns, wakame seawood and dashi (£12). A tempura batter has to be as light as gossamer but hopefully not spun by spiders. The tempura is there to give an almost imperceptibly fatty crunch before in this case you get to the juicy and unmistakable flesh of the prawn. Dakota Grill got that just right with an elegant yet very present dashi sauce. The wakame seaweed added heft and grist. All in all the dish was beautifully handled. 

You can finish off an evening in the bar which is even less illuminated than the restaurant. That torch on your phone might come in handy for reading the drinks menu. 

Jonathan Schofield  @jonathschofield

2024 02 08 Dotm Mark Duck 2 2024 02 08 Dotm Mark Duck 1

Roasted Crown of Wild Duck, The Ledbury, Notting Hill (£80) 

They brought over a fresh-roasted crown of wild duck on a bed of herbs, wafted it under my nose and then buggered off with it.

This was at the two-star Michelin restaurant The Ledbury, in Notting Hill, London. My favourite restaurant in the UK and one of my five best in the whole of the world. So far.

That duck was the centrepiece of a lunch that became the measure for all my subsequent meals. Within five minutes of arriving, I was feeling like the President of the Universe.

Jack, front of House and a veteran of world-class restaurants, was looking after me. This fella knows his stuff.

The duck breast returned boned, carved and plated as a work of art.

It ate as well as La Tour d’Argent’s “Canard à la Presse”, back when that Parisian masterpiece was rocking three stars.

At the end of this afternoon of gently rumbling ecstasy, I was sitting back getting a little sad that it was all over.

Then something happened to perk me up.

Jack came back to the table with a small box. “Gordo, we know you like a pie; we all read your stuff on Confidentials.com and loved your pie challenge up in The North. So, this morning I went to my favourite pie shop in London and bought you this to take home “

I’ll never forget that.

The Ledbury closed down before the pandemic I think, And I didn’t expect it to reopen. But it did, and quickly had its two-star status reinstated.

I was delighted to see Chef-patron Brett Graham’s team at the Michelin awards ceremony this week receiving a third star here in Manchester.

I haven’t seen such emotion in a room for a long time. This truly was the highlight of the evening for me. Well done to that team.

Mark Garner  @GordoManchester

2024 02 01 Dotm Harley Owens Urmston Woodland Chicken
Woodland chicken from Owen's Kitchen and Bar (£18) Image: Confidentials

Woodland chicken, Owen’s Kitchen & Bar (£18)

The woodland chicken at Owen’s Kitchen & Bar in Urmston is served in a mushroom and tarragon sauce alongside a crispy, crunchy, oh so fluffy portion of absolutely delectable parmesan truffled roasties. 

Succulent, moist and full of flavour, the chicken fell off the bone as all well-cooked chicken should. The meat was high quality, no gristly bits in sight. This dish was the perfect winter warmer for a cold and bitter Saturday in January. 

I finished every last mouthful and wished I’d ordered an extra portion of the roasties out of pure greed. Devine. Read my full review from this visit here.

Harley Young @Harley__Young

2024 02 07 Dotm Neil Wtlgi Helens Mutton
Helen’s Mutton from Where The Light Gets In (part of a £125 tasting menu) Image: Confidentials

Helen’s Mutton, Where The Light Gets In (part of a £125 tasting menu) 

One heartening plus of Monday’s Michelin junket was Where The Light Gets In retaining its Green Star, reward for championing sustainability. For proof look no further than this Hebridean mutton loin on my plate at the Stockport restaurant. The sheep was raised down the road in Cheshire by legendary herdswoman Helen Arthen. If this was an obvious prime cut, none of the rest had gone to waste. 

Shoulders, legs and necks were made into sausages on site, smoked Polish kielbasa style. Symbiotically our mutton, with kale, pearl barley and preserves, was served against a backdrop of heritage woolliness. Yan Tan Tethera – a sheep-counting system, traditionally used by northern shepherds – is the name of artist Kat Wood’s solo exhibition, devoted to sheep and wool and all who work with them. 

It’s the finale of WTLGI’s Responsive Resource Series that has also encompassed workshops, panel discussions, screenings and dinners. If this feels a bit up its own tup's arse, think again. Across the ten course tasting menu the likes of beetroot and cobnut tart, potato risotto with leek and Spenwood, Cornish monkfish/red curry and elderflower posset and apple are a gallery of culinary delight.

Neil Sowerby  @AntonEgoManc

2024 02 07 Dotm George Hello Oriental
Crispy Pork Belly with Rice from Hello Oriental (£20.40) Image: Confidentials

Crispy Pork Belly with Rice, Hello Oriental (£20.40)

I hope to god, my doctor isn’t reading this after seeing how high my cholesterol levels are currently but my dish of the month is crispy roast belly pork from Hello Oriental. 

I’m a sucker for roasted meats with crackling or crispy skin. Disgusting as it may sound, I could eat a whole roast chicken skin or all the crackling off a joint of roast pork in one sitting. So I was on to a winner at Hello Oriental with their roasted meat options. I was toying with the idea of going for the mixed roast, but I must admit I’d been craving some crispy belly pork for a week previous, so why ruin the dream? 

When ordering at Hello Oriental, it’s all through their app and immediately it electronically whispers suggested extras you should be ordering, so obviously I couldn’t resist. I ended up with the crispy belly pork, tender stem broccoli, whole soft-boiled egg served with steamed rice and sweet soy sauce. 

When the dish arrived, I was presented with a mound of food, and I was in gluttonous heaven. The crispy roast pork was exactly what was promised – no chewy fat that hadn’t rendered, this was crunchy but not teeth-destroying crackling. The flesh was soft and delicate and once you poured the sweet soy over the meat and paired it with the broccoli and rice this cut through the richness of the fat. 

When I was presented with what I had ordered I did have a Bruce Bogtrotter from Matilda moment where I thought my eyes were bigger than my belly but it’s safe to say I devoured the lot, and I felt no shame - it was that good. 

Sorry doc, I will try and lower the cholesterol levels next month!

Georgina Harrington Hague @georginahague

2024 02 07 Dotm Hayden Irish Fry
​Irish Fry from Koffee Pot​ (£12.50) Image: Confidentials

Irish Fry, Koffee Pot (£12.50)

If you like your coffee hot, let me implore you to go to Koffee Pot (Sorry JCC). Breakfast choices are hard but choosing between English, Irish or Scottish is like the Northern Quarter version of The Chase. Well Bradley, I’ve locked in Irish and I was right. 

45 years Koffee Pot has been giving it the biggun’ in the NQ and rightly so - many are ready for this brekkie. Littlewoods' Butchers dry-cured bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, potato cake, black AND white pudding, egg, mushrooms and wholemeal soda bread - you know to make it Irish. I was worried recently that Koffee Pot had gone a bit too ‘Norman’s’ but no Burberry collab should be near this, in fact you should have to flash a piece of clothing bought from Bury market instead. Definitely one of my favourites, consistent as fuck.

Hayden Naughton  @HaydenNaughton

2024 02 07 Dotm February Martyn Porkfillet
Pork Fillet from Hare & Hounds, Abbey Village (£12.95) Image: Confidentials

Pork Fillet, Hare & Hounds, Abbey Village (£12.95)

With January being wetter than an Aquaman feat. Spiderman mashup movie I had to get out of the house on a drizzly Saturday. I've been meaning to explore more of the foodie pubs along Belmont Road heading north out of Bolton since I moved back just over a year ago. It's a beautiful drive through the countryside and The Hare & Hounds in Abbey Village is far enough north to warrant a Preston postcode. This is serious walking country with a stack of reservoirs to explore if you're into that sort of thing. Not for me, a muddy path or field of cows will generally have me scarpering back to the car and civilisation but I appreciate the vibe.

I was intrigued by the German food on offer so wanted to give it a try. Brandy cream sauce in the menu description drew me in. Don't let the top-heavy looking presentation put you off. The chips are freshly fried - none of this frozen oven chip nonsense made of reconstituted mush. They remind me of chip pan chips from the 80s, before they got a bad rep for being a fire hazard and glueing a lingering pong to your kitchen ceiling. The sauce has those little oil spots that let you know this is going to be packed with flavour and it doesn't disappoint. The melted cheese is subtle enough to avoid becoming stodgy and it blends into the sauce adding a tang that compliments a generous slathering of vinegar on those perfect chips with the pork medallions hiding like little golden treasure nuggets underneath. It's very moreish. Achtung! This is proper Bolton food to warm your whatsits on a drizzly day.

Martyn Pitchford  @Pitch_Blend

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