Our food critics chomp their way around Manchester to help you choose what to eat
All the time, our friends tell us we are lucky buggers with the dream job.
It’s true. We are.
This month, team Confidentials have been treated to the potato of dreams via Tom Parker of The White Swan at Fence and we’ve sliced into the most perfectly cooked venison any of us have ever laid eyes on cooked by Luke Payne of The Pack Horse, both of these at the NRB x Eat Well charity dinner. We’ve had Robert Owen Brown in a guest appearance feeding us yet more venison and an apple tart dessert to kill for at our Confidentials supper club at The Eagle in Salford. We’ve even got our mitts on some stupendous Simon Rogan cook at home boxes. But there are rules to our best dishes articles: No delivery, takeaway or cook at home food - and the reader has to be able to go out and get the dish for themselves the following month. So one-off supper clubs are out. Nevertheless, as professional face stuffers, we’ve got smartphones full of photos of all the other great stuff we’ve eaten, and it doesn’t all have a hefty price tag either.
Here are the best things to eat in Manchester this April, as road-tested by us in March.
Burrito, Chilli Tortilla (£9.25)
Yes, there are burrito places all over Manchester but most of them are chains where you will be served by a fed-up, flustered chap in a cap, factory assembly line style with very little love into the bargain. Mexicans in Manchester are as rare as pollo’s teeth, so you are hard pushed to find any dining option calling itself Mexican that has anybody from the actual mother country involved.
That’s why Chilli Tortilla caught my eye on a recent jaunt to Altrincham. It’s one of the very very few Mexican-run places in Manchester and the whole family is behind the counter at one time or another. My burrito was absolutely packed with spicy shredded beef, rice, beans, shredded crunchy veg, jalapeños, hot sauce, roasted peppers, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and salsa. Cut in half it almost looked like a rainbow, the most fun way to get your five a day and then some. Another good reason to hop on a tram to Alty. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
Egyptian style fava beans, wild garlic, pickled peppers and Albert Street Bakery focaccia, Playfoots x Lemon Disco Club (£45 for 4 courses)
When the time comes that Playfoots opens bookings for its monthly supper club, I advise you to race to get a ticket as quickly as your little legs allow. Chef Nik Prescott (the master behind the cooking described in our review of Playfoots last year) flew the nest a few months ago, but his cooking still lives on via Lemon Disco Club. A private event and supper club set-up that specialises in Nik’s wonderful Middle Eastern-inspired dishes.
March’s supper club at Playfoots in Monton was a sold-out affair as it always is and I could talk for days about the honest cooking of Swaledale lamb with smoked almonds and snowfall of Spenwood sheep cheese, but then this Egyptian style stewed fava bean dish (also known as foul mudammas) wouldn’t get its time in the sun.
It might be a humble dish, but when served with swathes of olive oil, sumac, fresh herbs and salty focaccia it becomes dinner party-worthy. I know this because Zoe, who was hosting us, had a fight on her hands when she tried to take my plate away. Sophie Rahnema @sophieshahla
Bacon Gravy, Honest Burgers (£2)
I’ve got to preface this month’s best dish with an apology of sorts. Giddy on the fumes of St Patrick’s Day and a morning listening to Westlife and Samantha Mumba I slightly snapped when my dining partner ordered gravy for the table at Honest Burgers. What’ve you got that for? I thought, delirious. Then it happened. The moment I dipped my rosemary chip into that glimmering oasis of meaty stock I knew I had wronged him. He was right and I will never doubt him again. (Hayden, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I just wanna run to you.)
Rich, almost sweet, gloriously meaty with a soupy consistency that would make it perfect for drinking from a flask in winter, maybe half-time at a football match. Hearty, filling and memorable. Dip what you want into it. It’s a comrade to all, burger or chip. We’re all Honest Burger bacon gravy communists now, aren’t we? Yes it’s a chain and yes there are great independents out there (I like the burgers at Slap & Pickle too) but if you’re in the market for dipping chips and the like into a 2-in-1 gravy soup, this is a boat not to be missed. Davey Brett @dbretteats
Rice and three, This & That (£5.50)
Manchester is well known for its curry cafes, and there are plenty to choose from. I'm a big fan of Marhaba's naans and a 60th birthday party I went to at Al Faisal has to be one of my most memorable life events. But This & That has a special place in the hearts of most Mancunians. It's tucked away around the back of trendy long-time NQ bar Trof, fully canteen-style (as is the tradition) with minimal decor and just a hot counter full of simple, freshly made curries that change daily. Consult the epic menu on the wall for what's on offer on the day you visit but I always go for anything with chickpeas and anything with spinach. On this occasion, I treated myself to a bit of karahi lamb too. I'm a coriander lover, so I appreciate being allowed to add plenty as much as my coriander hating friends appreciate the chance to forgo it. Even more, I love the help yourself plate of thinly snipped fresh green chillies, one of my desert island ingredients without a doubt. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
Tomato rice with salsa verdi, Petisco (£6.50)
Flabby, pale-fleshed, altogether seedy - I’m not talking about sunbathers on the Costa del Expat but the state of tomatoes at times. In fact, I would go as far as to say I'm not a tomato fan based on their poor showing. But this little number from Petisco, a newish small-plates joint in Sale, swerved all that.
Tomato rice is a Portuguese classic that pairs excellently with grilled or fried fish as a side or can be enjoyed as a more risotto-like main. Unlike those sunbathers, slow-roasting the tomatoes brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit while the salsa verdi adds a herbaceous, garlicky, salty-sour tang to proceedings. The dried tomato garnish was a nice touch too. Best enjoyed on a sunny day with a little something from Alentejo, perhaps. Lucy Tomlinson @hotcupoftea
Japanese curried korokke, Australasia (£7)
Picky bits, or small plates if you’re posh, are something I always struggle with. I either under order and feel like I could still make my way through a main, or over-order and end up with the world’s most eclectic doggy bag. Luckily, though, my company at Australasia this month had mastered the Goldilocks skill of getting it just right.
Korokke means croquette in Japanese, and these intriguing bites of panko-crumbed goodness are Japan’s answer to the French potato classic. Crisp patties of mashed potato and ground beef with a sesame breadcrumb coating, the korokke had a subtle curried spice that packed way more of a punch than the usual deep-fried tatty. It was one of those crisp on the outside, melt in the mouth on the inside situations. Served with what I can only describe as a scattering of Haribo eggs, a combo of cool mayo and super-charged hot sauce served as the perfect dipping sideman. These korokke were meant for sharing, but I nabbed the third one with my chopsticks and kept quiet about it. Ellie-Jo Johnstone @elliejoj.
Lobster surf box, Soul & Surf (£24)
It was the drink that caught me by surprise, a plum and hibiscus soft, spiked with more cloves than a Xmas ham. Hot, almost, like ginger beer. This exacerbated the chilli heat in the jollof rice and meant I had to be strategic about how I ordered what I put in my gob. This lobster and king prawn platter was an understated treat though. Not cheap (well, who wants cheap lobster?) but worth it.
It’s almost hard to recall it now the weather’s turned for the better but I ate this on a parka-soaker of a Monday so torrential that I could actually have surfed there. With time to kill after a trip to Manchester Massage Centre (hard recommend) on Swan St for my regular ass-kicking from Daisy the ex-wrestler and before a bit of earnest John Rutter singing at the Halle St Peters (my life is nothing if not eclectic) I needed feeding. I'd survived all day on a sachet of microwaved porridge. The seafood in its garlicky sauce provided the flavour punch and an accompanying ramekin of mac n cheese, some welcome stodge (though other sides are an option, including a little chicken gizzard number). A sunny soundtrack via YouTube videos on big screens helped whisk me off to warmer climes. I reckon this will be even more of a hit during the sun-soaked days ahead. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
Sausage Roll and HP Sauce, The Fountain House (£6)
Pie-wise, March has been a banger of a month. I had a pie of supreme confidence at The Black Friar Pub in Salford. It was dancing around the table shouting at me. I kid you not. It was a cheeky little sod. “Come on you fat bastard,” it screamed, “Let’s see if you’re hard enough.” I was. Then to Melton Mowbray where yours truly is one of the judges at The British Pie Awards. I ate pies all day. It was tough.
I noticed Schofield had been to The Fountain House for lunch to review it. It used to be Albert’s Chop House; proper English grub by all accounts, so I slipped in to give it a go. It did mention a pie. I had that pie, a main course; it was good. I decided to have a couple of the bar snacks too, a pork pie and a sausage roll. The sausage roll was shaped like a small rugby ball, slightly squashed with a third of the roll sliced off and placed gently on the plate and a ramekin of HP sauce. It takes a good chef to know when he’s beaten.
The pastry was thin, crispy, not quite flaky, which is good. It was the colour of the inside thigh of a girl who’d been playing volleyball all week on the Copacabana beach in Rio. Lightly bronzed, not burnt. It hugged the sausage meat, a well ground pork mixture that reminded me of the fabled Porkinson Bangers, served on Concorde. Cooked lightly and just set, without shrinking too much, little beads of juice running down. Moist? You bet. Seasoned? Oh yes.
Truly, this sausage roll is a prince among sausage rolls. It’s Errol Flynn in green tights and a bulge. It could leave all comers at the bottom of a stone flight of medieval castle stairs, making its escape via a swinging chandelier through an open window with the heaving-breasted maiden under its arms. I think the chef might well have been sprinkling magic mushrooms in the mix. Go get one. They may well become a banned substance soon. Gordo @gordomanchester
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