The best starters, mains and desserts of the year... well, we think so anyway
WE asked our bank of hard working* food writers to create their dream three course meal from all the starters, mains and desserts they've enjoyed this year. And there's been a lot these past twelve months. Some dishes were so good, they’ve been included more than once.
Ruth Allan - Confidential food critic
Starter - Ox cheek with pickled walnuts from Porta
Main - Beef in charcoal at Moor Hall (side - cauliflower from Amma’s Canteen)
Dessert - Tiramisu at A Tavola
Diverse, ambitious and occasionally rough around the edges, Manchester’s cooking scene is the best it’s ever been - and Chorlton’s Amma’s Canteen is a brilliant example. With Keralan chef Saju Ravindran at the helm, the small plates are ridiculously moreish - sticky cauliflower bezule, lentil doughnuts with ginger yoghurt - while whisps of crisped rice and sturdy ceramics set the whole thing off nicely. Over in Reddish, A Tavola is another hidden gem serving authentic, occasionally challenging Sicilian cuisine on the high street. Order the chunky pizza, lemony pasta with crushed sardines, and the city’s finest tiramisu for dessert. Up a price bracket or two, Aughton’s Moor Hall (Manchester Confidential's meal of the year) is quite simply brilliant. The raw beef with a smoky, charcoal oil and gems of mustard is a classic. And I can't stop thinking about Porta’s confit ox cheek with pickled walnuts. What a year.
David Blake - Chief editor and Curry Mile convert
Starter: Sausage roll - Trove
Dessert: Tiramisu - Lupo
The problem with writing about one particular dish is that, more often than not, next time you visit the bastard thing has sold out. So it is with the crisp, buttery, world-beating Cumberland sausage roll at Trove, in Levy. I haven’t been able to get near one since bigging it up in our best September eats. Not so at the Kurdistan in Rusholme, where the kebabs flow freely: strips of minced beef, hand-mixed with spice, seasoned, skewered on metal and charbroiled over wood flame, trapping in the juice and flavour. My favourite feed of 2017, easy (watch the video here). To end, Nico's very special tiramisu from Lupo: still the best this side of Treviso.
NEIL SOWERBY - Critic, oenophile, explorer
Starter - Raw ribeye of ox in coal oil – Moor Hall
Main - Wood Fire-Roasted Turbot – Baratxuri
Dessert - Cheese Board - The White Swan
It’s kitchen lore that L’Enclume’s signature dish was forged in the imagination of Rogan’s head chef Mark Birchall, now chef patron at Moor Hall. It looks a picture worthy of a Penguin cover - pocks of vivid yellow mustard, barbecued celeriac and those provocative cubelets of 60 day aged beef plus a shark-like black wafer. In Ramsbottom, Baratxuri’s Joe Botham has gone and bought himself the ultimate Hispanophile boy’s toy – a Pereruela oven, fashioned from refractory clay at a Castilian village factory that has been making them since the 15th century. This centrepiece really comes into its own for the whole Rodaballo (turbot). One neglects a groaning cheese board at our peril. Chef Tom Parker’s prodigious talent made him the youngest contestant on this year’s Great British Menu, but his sourcing is equally brilliant. It helps if you’ve got a contender for Britain’s finest cheese shop down the road like Courtyard Dairy outside Settle.
Deanna Thomas - Food and drink writer
Starter – Pollen bread and beef butter – Adam Reid at The French
Main Course – Turbot and grilled veg - Baratxuri
Pudding – Custard tart - Hispi
I get an inner amber warning when chefs overcomplicate things with foams, spumes, smears, liquid nitrogen or twiddle-dee-dees. It’s the same with art. I could only understand Picasso once I trusted he’d mastered the basics in perspective and form. So all my chosen dishes are seemingly simple or traditional things done incredibly well. Adam Reid commissioned a special ale and malt loaf from Pollen Bakery which he serves as a separate course at The French with a quenelle of part smooth, light pate, part dripping, part perfectly salted butter. As Neil attests above (although we ate it on separate occasions) Baratxuri’s whole turbot was miles ahead of anything else and I will argue with anyone who thinks they can find a better dessert in Greater Manchester than Hispi’s perfect custard tart.
Mark ‘Gordo’ Garner - Critic, publisher, gaffer
Starter - Gamberoni fritti – Cicchetti
Main - Salt aged duck leg - Adam Reid at The French
Dessert - Cheese board - Manchester House
First up, the prawns, because of their simple elegance - they were so fresh one winked at Gordo. Adam Reid’s duck because I can close my eyes and still taste it; salt aged duck, beetroot and acidic cherry sauce was loved by all. On our way out Reid revealed that this dish alone is two weeks in the making, because of all the hanging and drying in a particular atmosphere to get the right levels of seasoning and skin texture, as well as expert butchery skills (proving breast is not always best). The cheese board at Manchester House is superbly curated by knowledgeable staff. In fact, there were two other cheese board offerings as good, but this one was my favourite by a photo finish.
Lucy Tomlinson - Food writer, philosopher, champion of the suburbs
Main course: Slow Roast Ox Cheek - Porta
Pudding: Cherry ice-cream - Insolito
My pick for the starter is a martini from Masons, made for you with care and much detailed explanation by the inimitable JD from his globe-shaped drinks trolley. It is technically on the Masons' food menu but if I'm not allowed to choose an aperitif I'll go for the black pudding from Moor Hall. Maybe it's a presentation thing (again this comes in a globe, or rather a weird spiky seed pod that looks like it comes from the icy depths) but the crisp parcels filled with lightly spiced, tender black pudding and tart, pickled apple that won me over. For main, the slow-roasted ox cheek from Porta, which shows off a magical combination of all the good things about slow roasting (flaking tenderness, a deep, luscious meatiness) with the benefits of flash-frying (a charred outside that is just the right side of burnt). I'll finish the lot off with a homemade cherry ice-cream from Insolito and a well-deserved nap, where I can dream of favourite meals to come.
Jonathan Schofield - Editor-at-large, tour guide, pub lover
Starter - Flat iron steak, two runny eggs, hollandaise sauce and potato rosti - Albert’s Schloss
Main - Unagi Nigiri - Umezushi (part of this year's most perfect meal)
Dessert - Cumin and cauliflower fritters - Mr Cooper’s, (because life is too short for sweet food)
Eels at Umezushi were the easy winners this year. They call them unagi nigiri... I call them bloody gorgeous fishy delights, oily too, with lots of subtlety, punch and any other paradoxical food flavours you can fit in. If food in odd railway arches in unfashionable areas of the city centre is this good we need lots more restaurants in odd railway arches in the city centre.