Cacciucco, Jianbing, Kohlrabi and other things we can pronounce
This month: we've tackled Tuscan fish stew, Cacciucco; found Manchester's best ever breakfast sandwich, and discovered a pimped out Piccadilly ice cream van serving ridiculously good Jianbing.
Jianbing - a van in Piccadilly Gardens (from £3.50)
Street food has become a bore, a term adopted by the high-street, shoehorned onto restaurant menus and rammed down our throats by faux-antiestablishmentalists who bag up traders, drop them into ready-made units and take a tasty slice of their profits. Real street food; unusual, unexpected, cheap, is hard come by. So to Piccadilly Gardens, where the usual dash through the filth and misery is interrupted by a pleasing whiff.
Inside what at first looks to be a coffee and ice cream van, a middle-aged Asian couple beaver away cooking ‘Jianbing’ - a Chinese-style crepe very popular amongst Beijing’s breakfast commuters. It involves a griddle, batter, eggs, sprinkles of spring onions, seeds and coriander, then (orders vary) mushrooms, sausage, cheese, Youtiao (a kind of Chinese churro), wonton crackers, bean paste, chilli, hoisin, a slap, a chop, a fold and a tickle. The result is a hefty, steaming, savoury omelette-cum-crepe for less than £4. Now that is proper street food. David Blake
Jianbing van, Piccadilly Gardens M60 1AY
Best ever breakfast sandwich - Beastro (£5)
Tilly, it was good whilst it lasted, but we all know you were destined for Gordo’s stomach in the end. Below you'll find the ingredients for the best breakfast sandwich ever:
1. Heather, James & Richard.
2. Tilly the Porker.
3. Eggs from Clarence Court.
4. Bread from Thatcher’s in Stockport.
5. Butter from Williams.
So, the lovely, butter-wouldn’t-melt Heather takes out a sharp knife and does poor old Tilly. Tilly’s constituent parts get cured, in the case of the bacon, whilst other bits are ground and turned into sausages with ‘proper’ casings (Heather’s little magic touch here is a drop of maple syrup). James generously butters the Thatcher’s best brown, sliced thickly, and cooks off a couple of sausages, a thick slice of bacon and lays them down gently. Richard drapes a sunny-side-up Clarence Court egg on top, finishing with a second piece of toast. Gordo gets a full half in his mitt, yolk dripping off his thumb, and hoovers half of it straight into his gob. Fuck. Me. Gordo
Beastro, Irwell Square, Leftbank, Spinningfields, Manchester M33AG
Smoked beef rib – Harvey Nichols (£18)
The 2nd Floor Bar and Brasserie can sometimes be overlooked in favour of newer, shinier modern British restaurants, but head chef Matthew Horsfield’s cooking remains consistent and innovative. Thanks to the buying power and reputation of the highly esteemed department store, the kitchen team have access to the best ingredients and top level kitchen equipment. The good thing is, they know what to do with it all too.
Smoked beef short rib with half a roasted garlic bulb, parsnip puree and pickled mustard seeds is the perfect autumn/winter dish and is not something easy to replicate at home, even for the most accomplished chef. Top quality beef, slow-cooked for twelve hours at a precise temperature is then finished off for three hours in the Josper smoker to produce soft, delicious and full flavoured beef. Mustard is an ideal partner, but pickling the seeds is a revelation. Apparently it took over a dozen attempts to perfect removing the bitterness and achieving the right balance of acidity. Presentation is always excellent here, but not at the expense of taste. Deanna Thomas
Harvey Nichols 2nd Floor Bar and Brasserie, 21 New Cathedral Street, M1 1AD
Kohlrabi and lardo – Where The Light Gets In (from the £75 tasting menu)
At first glance, this might be a doormat scattered with leaves. Look more closely and say hi to the latest leftfield dish from the agile mind of Sam Buckley. It’s a triumph to make a star out of this squat, Sputnik-like cabbage cousin (in German Kohl is ‘cabbage’ and Rabi ‘turnip’, which it resembles). You’ll have tasted it, raw and shredded, in a slaw perhaps. Here it’s raw again but combined with lardo, infused with pine vinegar, juniper and crystallised apple juice before being torched to give that scored, caramelised look. The scattering of yellow? Marigold petals (but on the next night’s menu the restless plan was for tiny sorrel leaves). The brown globules peeking through? Pickled pine nuts from the vinegar process. Only at WTLGI. Neil Sowerby
Where The Light Gets In, 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 7JY
Halloumi and chips - Hip Hop Chip Shop (£8)
Can deep fried halloumi substitute for proper fish and chips? I've had this dish before at an unnamed vegetarian restaurant and it was a salty, rubbery aberation. But in the hands of master fryers Hip Hop Chip Shop the halloumi remains silky smooth, the batter crispy and the accompanying chips satisfying wedges of carby comfort. Let's not pretend this is anything complex, for it's a block of cheese, deep fried (making it even less healthy than its pescatarian equivalent). But paired with a can of dandelion and burdock it's a Friday night 'fish' supper a veggie can be proud of. The deep fried double decker is another matter. Lucy Tomlinson
Hip Hop Chip Shop, 1116 Chester Road, Stretford, M32 0HA
Beef, walnut, artichoke – The Rivals (£7)
There’s a toss-up over two starters at this fresh start for the Royal Exchange Theatre’s new restaurant, The Rivals. I’m a little hard-pressed to decide which dish I prefer. Is it the house cured salmon, baby beets and horseradish crème fraiche, or the beef carpaccio, walnut pesto and marinated artichoke? Let me reel in the beef as numero uno. This was crammed with flavour, home cured and beautifully light - it also looked like a little artwork. Subtlety was the added ingredient but also strength. I bloody love artichokes. If my surname had been ‘Choke’ I would have called one of my sons ‘Arti’. Indeed, I felt so jubilant about the starters I elbowed my way through the sound-proofed doors of The Rivals and on to the Royal Exchange stage where I bellowed, “Cry artichoke and let slip the carpaccios of war,” just as Mark Anthony did in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. No, I did, I really did. It brought the house down. Jonathan Schofield
The Rivals, Royal Exchange, St Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH
Lobster salad - Randall & Aubin (off-menu - ask nicely)
While Gordo’s oppo used to dream of getting cosy with chef Ed Baines, Gordo simply wants to get to know his shellfish supplier, because Ed, the co-owner of Randall & Aubin, recently delivered a lobster and avocado salad of near-Michel Guérard brilliance. The lobster came soft and juicy, full of deep shellfish hums and tickles, the avocado ripe, the lettuce crisp and clean, and the sauce - oh the sauce - a smooth, Choron-style sauce with tomatoes knocking about in the background, nearly thick but still running, coating everything with the effects of a day in a Provencal vineyard. Lush. Gordo
Randall & Aubin, 64 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BN. Tel: 0161 711 1007
Cacciucco Tuscan fish stew - San Carlo Fumo (£10.95)
Occasionally I like a little bit of a ‘reveal’ with my dinner. Posh restaurants and grand houses used to serve the main course under a cloche (French for bell) which white gloved servers used to lift off at the table to add a little drama. Obviously I prefer a much more toned-down version, and sometimes I like to be left alone, but every so often it’s lovely to sit at a table and feel the sense of anticipation you feel at Christmas just before you open your presents.
I felt this recently at San Carlo Fumo with one of their specialities, Tuscan fish stew (Cacciucco), baked under a dough crust which the waiter cuts into at the table, allowing a cloud of pleasant piscine promise to escape. Inside is a thick and comforting tomato based soup packed with chunks of salmon and tuna, squid rings and assorted shellfish including fresh mussels and clams. Just rip, dip and sip. Deanna Thomas
San Carlo Fumo, 1 St Peters Square, Oxford Road, M1 5AN Tel: 0161 236 7344
Ox cheek and blue cheese croquette - The Midland Hotel (£5.50)
Pulling together Manchester's best bar snacks, we spent a good deal of last month with a series of tasty balls in our mouths. There were the ham hock bon bon balls from Beastro, Hawksmoor's short rib nugget balls, and the ox cheek and blue cheese croquette balls from The Midland's relaunched cocktail bar. Confident and weighty in hand, these particular balls were dark and rough to the touch, with a warm, robust, meaty centre, lifted by a delightfully creamy, cheesy tang. What? David Blake
The Midland, 16 Peter St, Manchester M60 2DS