This month: duck, dock, dahl and 'sentient beings'

WHAT a mixed month it’s been. We’ve been huddled over a warm, comforting stew one week and peeling charred things off the barbecue the next. So forgive us for this mixed bag of dishes – there’s more of a range here than you’ll find at an all-you-can world buffet.

Here's what Confidential’s gaggle of food and drink writers reckon you should try this month...

20180501 Best Dishes Deanna

LA Grilled Octopus, Pen and Pencil (£12.50)

With all the excellent Spanish restaurants in Manchester, perhaps Northern Quarter hangout Pen & Pencil isn’t the first place you’d think of for octopus. The P&P team change their menu several times a year, with each dish earning its place after passing an intense taste test. In amongst their signature NY-inspired brunches, steaks and sarnies are some unexpected courses, including ‘LA Grilled Octopus’. I love a well-cooked octopus, but the famously carnivorous Gordo said he now doesn’t eat them because ‘they’re sentient beings’. Anyway, this one was soft and tender with a perfectly charred flavour, beautifully presented with fried lotus root, green and yellow courgette, wasabi foam and red tobiko. Deanna Thomas

Pen & Pencil, Fourways House, 57 Hilton St, Manchester M1 2EJ

180502 Best Dishes The French Adam Reid Salt Duck

Salt-aged duck, Adam Reid at The French (part of the £85 tasting menu)

Anything that emanates from Adam Reid's kitchen is a treat, but this duck dish caught my eye because it really captures the difference between Adam and his predecessor at The French, Simon Rogan. Rogan's approach was exemplified by a very pretty, tumbled flowers and herbs look - like Galadriel burped on to a plate - that has strongly influenced food presentation for the last few years. Reid's food has a more savage appearance, with an almost confrontationally sparse plating to suit an urban aesthetic that will appeal to anyone who never wants to eat another edible petal again. It puts me in mind of a staring alien eye or other body part. It tasted fabulous of course, but then that's a given. Brutalist food as the new trend for 2018, anyone? Lucy Tomlinson

Adam Reid at The French, The Midland Hotel, Peter St, Manchester M60 2DS

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Cauliflower dhal, The Rivals (£6)

Cauliflower dhal with cauliflower pickles, crispy shallots and a charred lemon on the side is wonderful. Anna Fysh at The Rivals in the Royal Exchange is providing some of the city centre’s more interesting food. The new menu is a real winner with some star starters in particular. The dhal is glorious even while it looks drab in that inimitable way so much Indian food can. But the flavours are superb - as long as you like cauliflower - all evidence of the flair and imagination cone from Fysh’s kitchen. A portion for six quid makes for a decent lunch and better than anything in those dreary Prets. The spicy prawns and the duck salad are also total winners. Personally I don’t understand why The Rivals isn’t busier at lunch. It’s a great place with interesting decor next to the grandest room in the region. Jonathan Schofield

The Rivals, Royal Exchange Theatre, St. Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH

20180501 Best Dishes Ruth

Black sesame tofu, Shoryu Ramen (£6.50)

The waiter at Shoryu Ramen tried to warn me off the black sesame tofu: “Its a Marmite dish, nothing like normal tofu” he said. Glutinous and vaguely sweet - like something in the air - the tar-coloured jelly reminds me of the Thai rice pudding they used to sell at Siam Smiles. Or those wobbly-skinned mochi ice creams from Yo! Yet still really savoury. Topped with a steamed tenderstem broccoli spear and sweet miso paste, it's a gothic delight. Ruth Allan

Shoryu Ramen, 1 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1RG

Pasta Factory Bucatini Nero Con Vognoli

Bucatini Nero Con Vongoli, The Pasta Factory (£15)

Gordo was taken to The Pasta Factory, a restaurant just outside the NQ. The name had put him off a little, clearly something to do with pasta, therefore probably Italian. But the last pasta factory the Fat One went to was in a brand new shed on an industrial estate outside Alba, Northern Italy. It wasn't chichi but produced great dried pasta, used in the best Italians. The Pasta Factory on Shudehill is charming, the Bucatini Nero Con Vongoli was a lot more than that. The pasta is made fresh in house; the resulting plate of food, including a wonderfully butch clam sauce (with big, fat, juicy, angry clams) was so beautifully finished it made Gordo's shoulders soften and ... relax. A crow bar was needed to get the grin off his face. A ten out of ten go. It’s banging. Every bit as good as Sugo in Altrincham. Gordo

The Pasta Factory77 Shudehill, Manchester, M4 4AN 

180502 Best Dish Parkers Arms Pie

Creamed potato and Lancashire cheese pie, Parker’s Arms (£17)

“Be warned,” said a colleague before our trip north into the Forest of Bowland’s belly bucolic, “she’s a feeder.” The she in question is Stosie Madi, the Gambian-raised half-French, half-Lebanese chef-patron behind the Parker’s Arms – a gastropub an hour’s drive north of Manchester which has scooped more awards than I can be arsed to list here (it was recently named the eighth best gastropub in the UK). As well as a reputation for fattening punters up, the one-woman, self-taught kitchen powerhouse is well-known for her pies, in this case, a creamed potato and Lancashire cheese pie which I reckon could do a job on the walls of the nearby Hornby Castle if loaded into a ten-inch cannon. It’s a proper whopper, spectacular to look at and more so to eat. Imagine a rich, creamy, cheesy dauphinois in a hot, buttery, crunchy pastry… you’re dribbling, aren’t you? David Blake

Parker's Arms, Hall Gate Hill, Newton-In-Bowland, Nr Clitheroe BB7 3DY

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Dock pudding, Moorcock Inn (part of a tasting menu, £35)

Remember those tussles with nettles when you were building a woodland den as a lad? How, in those days of short trousers until puberty and beyond, the rash spread down your pale Yorkshire legs and your mum rubbed them with big dock leaves to alleviate the sting? Flash forward to today’s forage-driven £35 tasting menu at this Moorland inn taken over by a Michelin-trained couple and they are serving you docks with a difference. These are bistort, a cousin of the sting-curing dock, found mainly in Calderdale. At the annual World Dock Pudding Championship in nearby Mytholmroyd its leaves are fried laverbread-like in bacon fat with oatmeal, nettles, onion and seasoning. Yuck. In contrast the Moorcock’s deconstructed exemplar is a ravishing arrangement of freshly picked raw leaves sitting on an oyster emulsion. A dish Simon Rogan would die for. Neil Sowerby

Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP 

180502 Best Dish Rabbit In The Moon

Smoked eel bao, Rabbit in the Moon (part of the £45 lunch tasting menu)

Sorry, one more. We can't go without mentioning the new menu at Rabbit in the Moon. Now, we've had our run-ins with executive chef Michael O'Hare since the launch of this space-asian restaurant on top of Urbis in early-2017. He had a go at bartenders, we took the piss, he blocked us on Twitter. Whatever. Having said all that, if he fed us just one more of his smoked eel, oyster sauce and avocado bao buns we'd probably have his babies. Twice. And put the kettle on afterwards. David Blake

Rabbit in the Moon, Urbis Building, Corporation St, Manchester M4 3BG

While we've got you, here's the best dishes from last month too.