The best of the season sits alongside top-notch international dishes
CENTRAL Manchester is plating up the perfect serve for summer, from Ancoats to Victoria. Japanese, Venezuelan, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, European and best of British – we’re embarking on a grand tour of fresh flavours this month. Add in plenty of fish and seafood and vegan and vegetarian dishes, and this really is a round-up with a difference.
Read on for the Confidentials team's picks this August.
Grilled Hispi with Yeast Sauce and Sourdough Crumbs - Erst (£6.50)
I hold my hands up. I’ve been so awash with keeping up with new openings, closings, comings and goings this year, that - although we swiftly dispatched someone to review - Erst slipped under my personal radar. Whispers about it started getting louder, meaning it topped my list of places to go on a rare date night. It hasn’t been easy to pick just one from the menu of small plates made with top-quality ingredients, but this one seems to represent their message well. Erst takes produce at their seasonal best and makes them the greatest they can be; wines are less ‘natural’ and more ‘low intervention’ - so the top of their type without the rubbish. Cabbage core left crunchy, leaves scorched and sweet. Yeast sauce sounds like a fungal infection but was a perfect vitamin B-packed umami emulsion. Pure, simple and very good. Manchester is lucky to have a place like this. Deanna Thomas
Erst, 9 Murray Street, Ancoats, M4 6HS
Razor Clams with Chilli and Ginger - Umezushi (£14)
There’s a slightly pervy YouTube clip from one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage programmes. In a Cornish estuary, a razor clam is teased out of the sand with a sprinkle of salt and then gently tugged up, innards dangling from the cutthroat razor-shaped shell. The finest razor clams are all about foraging, not farming. Hand collected, Marine Stewardship Council certified, at their best in the autumn and winter. Provenance is always assured at Umezushi, but I do wonder where the giant specimens I’m tackling hail from. What the hell – this steamed half dozen is spectacularly succulent, the texture ranging from chewy to meltingly soft with a rich endowment, Chinese style, of chilli and ginger. I wolf the sweet meat and then slurp clean the narrow shell gutters. And so should you. Neil Sowerby
Umezushi, 4, Mirabel Street, Manchester, M3 1PJ
Caneló La Barceloneta - Tast (£8.80)
If anyone knows how to cater during a long, hot European summer, it’s those hailing from Barcelona - and this fabulous dish from the Spanish team at Tast has it all. There’s flavour, punch, cream, cheese and toffee-ish demi-glace in one thumb-sized bite stuffed with guineafowl and wrapped in the thinnest, silkiest pasta this side of Rome. Perfect as a standalone dish or as part of the kind of remarkable smorgasbord that Tast excels at, this is tapas on flavour steroids, a million miles from the spongy albondigas of old. Ruth Allan
Tast, 20-22 King Street, Manchester, M2 6AG
Stuffed Baby Aubergine Kebab with Greek Fries - BAB (£14)
I visited BAB for the first time because I was having lunch with the world’s only teetotal vegetarian Frenchman (he also philosophises about love in coffee shops, so don’t worry, France, national equilibrium is restored), and I thought the iced tea and selection of vegetarian kebabs would suit him perfectly. Turned out I was the one who fell in amour with the stuffed baby aubergine, peperonata (peppers and onions) and baba ganoush (aubergine dip) kebab, a punch of double-aubergine deliciousness served in a freshly baked flatbread. This definitely gives the kebab concept a much-needed injection of chic. The whole shebang is accompanied by the magnifique Greek fries, loaded with thoum, tazitiki, feta and chilli sauce. I still think about them wistfully, even now. Lucy Tomlinson
BAB, 14 Little Lever Street, Manchester, M1 1HR
Torched Mackerel Ceviche - Refuge by Volta (£7.50)
How much do you spend on lunch? Well, if you want a juicy morsel halfway between a fiver and a tenner, then this is you, chap. Within the tiled and gilded splendour of the Principal hotel’s Refuge by Volta restaurant, there is a dish to match. This torched (at first I’d read ‘tortured’ and thought “How wrong”) mackerel dish is all about colour and a rewarding collision of favour. There are lots of things going on here, with the delightfully, sharp mackerel giving good heft and texture, enhanced by a dizzying array of exotica around the plate, such as Sriracha, coconut and kombu. Kombu is kelp, the Sriracha is a chilli sauce adding a pleasant heat to the dish. The fried basil leaves on top boost the thing even more. A fascinating, even exciting dish, this one. Jonathan Schofield
Refuge by Volta, Principal Manchester, Oxford Street, Manchester, M60 7HA
Pabellon Criollo – Mia’s Arepas (£8.59)
It’s all very well and good quaffing endless negronis and dining on things like octopus canapés, quenelles of pea mousse and compressed melon infused with pine honey, as a food writer’s remit often punishingly entails. But sometimes you just want good, simple, home-cooked food that wraps you up in motherly love. Mia is the Venezuelan adoptive mama I never knew I needed until I happened upon her ‘secret’ takeaway in Chinatown - now not so secret since I have blabbed to all and sundry about it here. I took a chance on a pabellon criollo (based on a Venezuelan national dish) and was not prepared for the utter joy of such a filthy beast. A soft, freshly baked, corn flatbread stuffed as full as a miser’s purse with shredded, slow-cooked beef, unctuous, earthy black beans, sweet caramelised plantain, oozing melted cheese and lashings of crushed avocado. This dish has taken up residency in my soul. Kelly Bishop
Mia’s Arepas, Flat 4 Connaught Building, George Street, Manchester, M1 4HF
Spring Roll and Summer Roll - NAM (£6)
Let’s talk spring rolls. Or indeed, summer rolls. There was a Chinese chippy in Heald Green near a supermarket that Gordo used to work at that sold spring rolls as fat as one of the tins of Carling Special Brew that the sex-starved 18-year-old was regularly drinking every Wednesday night. Big, dripping with beef fat, crispy and stuffed full of water chestnuts, shredded cabbage, them beans and seven small prawns. What a hangover cure, every Thursday.
Back to today and Gordo, on a modern pub crawl in the now very trendy Ancoats, wandered into the pretty cool NAM on Cutting Room Square. The gaff is one that encourages people to stop a while, the bar is ace. But what knocked out Gordo are the rolls. Gordo had two. At the bar. A summer roll, pork and prawn with fresh, tangy coriander, lime, (a very light) touch of fish sauce and sliced crispy veg and chillies, along with just enough freshly boiled and cooled rice to satisfy the carb dependents. It’s a thing of great beauty; its cousin, the deep-fried pork spring roll, was its equal. Top booze grub for starters, Gordo’s off to scoff the full menu next week… Gordo
Nam, Unit 2, 33 Blossom Street, Ancoats, M4 6AJ
Like that? Here’s our list of best dishes from July.