Clever canapes, clean sashimi, chocolatey churros and more
We took a month off writing up our best dishes for January but, boy, have we made up for it in our February round-up. We hope you're hungry.
This one's a flesh-fest with everything from pigs ears to haggis. We've also been enjoying some dishes from less well-represented (in Manchester) cuisines like Brazilian and Venezuelan.
Enough of the pre-amble. Time to scroll to the good stuff.
Here are the dishes our food and drink team recommend you eat this February.
Salmon don, Yuzu (£14)
Sometimes I get a bit done in by the influencer fuelled hype-steria for all things massive and oozing. My favourite places to eat are those with the shortest menus, the ones that pick something they know really well and execute it to perfection. I want your grandma’s hot pot or your dad’s curry goat. A dish that means something to the person that cooked it, carefully preserved for generations, made with love and pride before profit.
These places are often crushed under the weight of Manchester’s “so hot right now” status. They don’t have PR teams, ever-active Instagram accounts or a big chain behind them. There are tons of them all scuffed and muffled and comfy like well-worn leather jackets under the pile of squeaky, scrumming newbies and they deserve some love too. Yuzu is one of these. A tiny Japanese spot on the corner of Chinatown that opened back in 2010. A place I’ve loved for years but that criminally slips to the back of my mind sometimes. I visited amid the greasy consumption of the Xmas season. I wanted no more talk of pigs in blankets and piled-high everything. I wanted a lunch of elegant purity. And that’s what I got. Salmon don is clean and simple sashimi over a bowl of expertly seasoned sushi rice with shredded daikon radish and a blob of dusky green, sinus-clearing wasabi. It’s served with a bowl of miso with seaweed, the definition of umami. That’s all you need, but I can never resist adding a side dish of agedashi tofu, two slices trembling beneath a coating of gauze-like tempura batter, dressed with soy and mirin and topped with ginger and thinly shredded spring onions. The sworn enemy of the chopstick if ever there was one. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
Lamb kebab, Ta’Am (£15)
I was invited by my pal Paul Harris, Group Editor of The Jewish Telegraph, to break bread with him at Ta’Am, a kosher gaff in North Manchester. Owned by Martine and Amos Vaizman, it’s a Middle Eastern grill restaurant hugely popular with the orthodox (and other) Jewish community in the area. And let me tell you, these guys know quality and value.
Martine and her five (going on eight) year-old daughter Sarina hosted the table. The food is exceptional. I was blown away with the quality of the ingredients, the care which is taken in the prep and the execution of cooking, especially on the grill. The dish that did it for me was a starter of lamb kebabs. Amos goes for selected pieces of meat and grinds them himself, adding his own blend of spicing whilst using goose fat to help the bind. Tickled on the grill, cooked just so, the flavour and gentle heat stop time whilst the mouthfeel is glorious. A Michelin three-star kebab. Gordo @GordoManchester
Crispy pig’s head, KALA (three courses for £42)
I loved my first visit to KALA. I’ve walked past that A-board with the Jay Rayner quote “quietly feeds you well” countless times and now I get it. I had the braised featherblade of beef as my main with a melon, lime and mint sorbet to finish but it was the crispy pig’s head that made my month. Deep-fried croquette style parcels of smoked ham with a shard of kohlrabi each. Shrimp XO bringing the garlic and chilli, coriander and lime adding a sort of ceviche pickle quality to the refreshing cucumber-like crunch of the kohlrabi AKA the German turnip. Comforting, filling, but with a zingy wake-up call after each bite. A modest masterclass in texture, flavour and composition. Davey Brett @dbretteats
Golfeado, Mercado (£4.50)
Bear with me on this one. Curiosity got the better of me at Mercado on Burton Road in Didsbury when I ordered. And the photo doesn’t do this Venezuelan sticky bun any justice at all. The warmth of cinnamon in the buns that we’re used to over here is replaced with the aniseed of fennel, the stickiness provided by raw sugar cane. And then it's topped with, well, melted cheese.
I can't quite put my finger on the main reason I gobbled this up without sharing a morsel. But I know that I’m a sucker for a sweet and salty combo and even more of a soft touch for traditional snacks from all over the world - so do forgive me for being cheesy - but this confusing little morsel satisfied two cravings in one. Sophie Rahnema @sophieshahla
Smoked beef frap, JS On The Corner (£11.95)
On our recent editorial amble around Prestwich, we found some pretty special gems including a roadside Sicilian pasta van and a whole load of pickled tongue in the Kosher Deli at the top of Bury New Road. However, when it comes to memorable Prestwich munches, the smoked beef frap from JS On The Corner was a deep-fried wad of food that I won’t be forgetting about for a while, and neither will my waistline.
Packed to the literal brim with smoked beef pastrami, garlic mayo, mustard, crispy onions, onion rings, salty pickles, and coleslaw, the whole wrap is signed, sealed, delivered with a breaded, deep-fried coating and a pile of chips on the side. With a mass of different textures and flavours and an ingredient list as long as Bury New Road itself, this “frap” was a feast of epic proportions and required a can of strawberry Israeli nectar. My first bite concluded that his artery-clogger would be the perfect post-pints guilty pleasure, so it’s a good job I don’t live closer to Prestwich. Ellie-Jo Johnstone @elliejoj
Haggis pie, The Black Friar (£10)
I'm torn by haggis. It's not a pleasant sensation. The neeps tickle so. Seriously though the belly pork with haggis dish from Elite Bistro's outside catering arm served up at a Bruntwood Works private event for Burns' Night was wondrous. This was a full-on total meat attack: pig curled lovingly around sheep bits producing flamboyant flavour.
But, that was a special occasion dish for a private event so, instead, I have to go for the equally wondrous haggis and neeps (turnip) pie available publicly at The Black Friar. This was accompanied by a perfect mash, kale that was kind and loads of oh-so-necessary lush gravy. The crust on the pie was deliberately scorched in an aesthetically pleasing way while the pastry itself was so yielding it sort of waved a flag and said, "Welcome and come on in". The rich haggis and neep interior continued the hospitality. Ben Chaplin has hit on a clever idea with these pies which come in all flavours and change frequently. It's always worth nipping in to see what pie he's about to come up with next. Jonathan Schofield @JonathSchofield
Churros, Choza at One Central, Altrincham (£5.95)
"I don't really have a sweet tooth," I often confidently tell the office as they raise their eyebrows, politely not mentioning the biscuit crumbs forming miniature drifts around my laptop. Look, now we are all wending our way back to the office, mindless consumption of brownie bites and custard creams will no doubt increase. But when I'm out and about it is generally the case that I'm not attracted to the sweet stuff. Sturdy sarnies and rugged pies are more my dish. But take an ice-cold day in January, loafing about in Altrincham and somehow the churros from Choza (tucked away in One Central) became irresistible. Thin ribbons of slinky dough are deep-fried and puffed up to form the Mexican/Spanish answer to doughnuts - hot, crisp and rolled in lick-your-lips pearly sugar. Paired with a Nutella sauce to dunk them in and one of Tatton Perk's ridiculously indulgent white hot chocolates to wash it all down with, it looks like I have come over to the dark (sweet) side after all. Lucy Tomlinson @ahotcupoftea
Canapes by Caroline Martins, Blossom Street Social (£5.50)
Yes, you read that price correctly. You can get three miniature works of art from the Cordon Bleu-trained, Masterchef Brasil contestant (soon to be gracing small screens in the UK on another high profile cooking show) for just over a fiver at Ancoats wine bar Blossom Street Social this month. I was lucky enough to try the whole menu in advance and it's all mind-bending and memorable but where else do you get the opportunity to try some clever Michelin-style snacks for less than the price of a fancy pint? Caroline's garden gang features a spinach cone filled with chicken liver and acai berry with caffeine-like Catuaba gel, a mahogany coloured crouton topped with a flump-textured shrub made from Crofton cheese, heart of palm and parsley, and a little tartlet of smoked salmon topped with Exmoor caviar. Absolutely delightful with a glass of Chablis from the Blossom St cellars.
The main image on this article is Caroline Martins' surrealist mushroom-shaped dessert made from guava - a bit sweet for me but so clever it just has to be tried. This is also on the Sao Paolo menu which you can pick and choose dishes from (rather than being tied into a tasting menu) and it's controversially available to walk-ins only. Try your luck, I guess. Kelly Bishop @keliseating
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