Eels, crab, sole and shrimp - there's something fishy about this month's dishes...
WELL, who’d have thought yeast would one day become a dream ingredient, but there it is. Two out of three of our favourite dishes this month include the fusty stuff – from posh lamb skewers to Japanese grilled eels. Also from the watery depths come some super soft shell crabs. Read on for the dishes the Confidentials team recommend you try this September.
BBQ Lamb Belly Skewers, with Miso and Yeast Flakes - Wilderness Bar + Kitchen (£5)
I know some people who won’t eat lamb because of the lamb fat. I can see what they mean. When it goes cold it can be a bit musty and overwhelming. Other people sing the praises of dripping, but cold animal fat can be a bit off-putting and the fat of the lamb is nowhere near as versatile as chicken, beef or bacon fat. The kitchen bit of new NQ hotspot Wilderness Bar + Kitchen is headed up by James Lord (ex-Manchester House) who has made lamb fat the actual hero in his dish of tender barbecued skewers of lamb belly glazed with miso and sprinkled with yeast flakes infused with lamb fat (£5) – lambier than Larry Lamb driving his pet lamb on the back of a Lambretta on the way to drink a bottle of Lambrini during a screening of Silence Of The Lambs. Lambtastic. Deanna Thomas
Wilderness Bar + Kitchen, 30-32 Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1ER
Smoked Yakitori Eel - Mana (part of £105 14-course tasting menu)
What do I want from Santa this year? A yakitori grill and a year’s supply of eels, possibly. To recreate a masterpiece. There’s no wriggling out of it, Mana’s perennial stalwart on a seasonally changing tasting menu is unforgettable. The eel breathes forest campfire embers, a glaze of roasted nutritional yeast is a genuine case of umami knows best and a second glaze of blueberry vinegar adds extra fruity funk. You understand why chef/patron Simon Martin was handed custody of the charcoal grill during his time at Noma in Copenhagen; it’s an essential component of his menu in Ancoats. Mind you, cooking on a compact yakitori-style wire-grid grill (preferably using that Japanese white charcoal binchotan) seems de rigueur these days; Steven Smith on my recent visit to the Freemasons at Wiswell cooked me grouse offal and foie gras on his new yakitori toy. Neil Sowerby
Mana, 42 Blossom Street, Ancoats, M4 6BF
Cua Xao Lot Hat Tieu - Salt and Pepper Crab - Vnam (£6.49)
Considering the vast choice we have when it comes to Vietnamese food in Manchester now, it’s hard to believe that the cuisine was largely unheard of in these parts when Vnam first opened in 2010. This tiny cafe popped up on Oldham Road with minimal fanfare but word spread fast among those who know seriously good food when they taste it. It was here that I first tried summer rolls and fell in love with their flavourful virtuosity. Since then I’ve slurped my way through bowls of pho all over town and even eaten my way around Vietnam Bourdain-style – foetal duck eggs and all. I returned to Vnam last weekend for a catch-up with a friend (a criminally long hiatus on both counts) and while everything we shared was wonderful, the salt and pepper soft shell crab was the stuff Bourdain himself would froth at the mouth to tell you about. The crisp exterior perfectly contrasts with the delicate dressed crab within. Served with a simple fish sauce for dipping, this is proper, unpretentious food but with a sense of indulgence. My kind of eating. Kelly Bishop
Vnam, 140 Oldham Road, M40 6BG
Sliced potatoes & bacon - Hunan (£9.95)
It’s my perfect comfort food this. I might have taken 30 people around on a tour for two hours in the morning in my other life as a tour guide, while, in this life as a writer, I might have been out the night before reviewing a restaurant. The perfect pick-me-up is this beautifully oily dish of sliced spuds and chewy, fatty bacon, heated up with a gang of chillis and onions. These are presented sizzling and you dole out the grub into a separate dish with boiled rice waiting inside. The portion size is huge, the food looks striking and, after spending half an hour eating it, I only need to snack for the rest of the day. Jonathan Schofield
Hunan, George Street, 19-21 George St, Manchester M1 4HE
Blueberry and lemon loaf with hot chocolate - All The Shapes (£6.10)
Cake and a brew rarely makes it on to best dishes, perhaps because it seems too quotidian when there are exciting bits of squid or various eyeballs to eat in this brave new gastronomic world. Maybe because it is the advent of yet another Bake Off or maybe because it seems remiss to ignore something that brings pleasure to people every day, I am here to right that wrong. I don’t have a massively sweet tooth but when you’ve been hauling around Prestwich in the drizzle all day then the situation calls for a slab of freshly baked lemon and blueberry loaf, moist and fruity with a citrus bite, and a comforting mug of hot chocolate made to my exact specifications regarding the milk by the patient and accommodating of All The Shapes. What better way to stop and shelter from the rain? Save the eyeballs for when it’s sunny again. Lucy Tomlinson
All The Shapes, 8 Warwick Street, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 3HN
Devilled Kidneys - The Bull’s Head, Heyside (£5.50)
James Robert Taylor’s signature dish at his new post-Beastro venture is a meat lover's delight and an offal-fearer’s nemesis. I was brave and ordered this very simple starter despite my trepidation of having nowhere to hide. It’s lamb’s kidneys on toast, and thank goodness, they were splendid. Expertly prepared, sautéed with shallots and capers and served in an unfathomably light but deeply rich Madeira cream sauce that packs a perfect pitch of heat; just enough to elevate but not too much to distract from the main attraction. If it wasn’t such a large portion and I had two more courses to go I would’ve ordered a bowl of that sauce and consumed it like soup. The dish is incredible value; kidneys piled high on a kidney-dish-sized piece of sourdough. It has the square footage of a lunch course, but if you go, I urge you to try it. Just wear stretchy pants. Claire Woodier
The Bull’s Head,152 Heyside, Royton, Oldham OL2 6NB
Karuveppilai Eral - Amma’s Canteen (£6.75)
This utter gem of a family owned and run Indian restaurant joins a small club in the suburbs of Greater Manchester offering completely authentic Southern Indian street food and family kitchen cooking.
Saju learned his trade as a chef in the battle cruiser hotels of Mumbai. In Manchester he and his wife, Ganga, decided to open Amma’s (named after his mum) and showcase a variety of dishes that the couple knew so well from back home.
Karuveppilai Eral is one of their grazing dishes. Large, succulent prawns dipped in a batter coating of curried lentils and deep fried; finishing up as a not too delicately crisp plump large shrimp. You dip this beauty in a cheeky curry mayo, and bite it in half. The umami-curry crispy case shatters into lush, beautifully fresh and sweet prawn meat. Dearie me. Maybe tempura could beat it. But that’s doubtful. It’s gluten free by the way. But don’t let that put you off. Gordo
Amma’s Canteen Bar & South Indian Street Kitchen, 285 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M21 7GH
Eggs Florentine - Trove (£8)
Having eggs made for you is one of life’s pleasures and Trove’s Eggs Florentine is one of Manchester’s most faultless dishes. The egg is perfectly cooked up to, but not including, the yolk - which breaks with a rich creaminess. Golden ‘miso hollandaise’ is a light and fragrant take on the classic French/Dutch sauce while a sprinkling of black sesame adds a surprising umami hit. A bed of wilted, local greens are health on a plate and you can choose your homemade bread too. The picture is of Trove’s homemade white sourdough, which was recommended by the staff but there’s also wholemeal, molasses and sunflower seed and (you have to try this one too) 100% rye with fennel. Sitting outside, under the last warm rays of summer’s sun, Trove’s eggs are almost enough to make you forget the relentless traffic of Stockport Road. Impressive stuff. Ruth Allan
Trove, 1032 Stockport Rd, Manchester M19 3WX
Lemon sole - Street Urchin (£16.00)
Don’t mess with the fish. Just take the gentle flesh, brush with oil, cook it just so, apply, maybe, a decoration of capers and a tiny number of salad leaves and then present. Put on the side of the plate a beurre or a sauce that the customer can take or leave. Simply does it with a fish like a lemon sole. Street Urchin, the newish restaurant with the handsome interior on Great Ancoats Street, knows this and achieves it. A good fish dish like this leaves you feeling floaty, sated but lightly so. It’s food that keeps the mind sharp and looks lovely too. Jonathan Schofield
Street Urchin, 84 Great Ancoats St, Manchester M4 5BG