Restaurant Review: Comptoir Libanais, Manchester

Comptoir Libanais – Lovely Lebanese Lunch

Nestled between war-torn Syria and tumultuous Israel, Lebanon could be forgiven for producing depressed cuisine: Comptoir Libanais Manchester’s environment was anything but. Dizzying splashes of vibrant colour with the frenetic fusing of glossy tiles, kitsch prints and miles of merchandise, created a spotlessly clean, immersive dining area.

Comptoir Libanais‘ zingy ‘Toufaha’ (apple, mint, ginger) and ‘Roomana’ (pomegranate, orange blossom) juices were the most refreshing entity my mouth had encountered: I now no longer regard non-alcoholic drinks the domain of the devout, prepubescent or recovering alcoholics only.

Starters provided mouth-watering salty, golden, succulent halloumi – God’s consolation prize to vegetarians. The accompanying robust tomatoes, vigorous dressing and flavourful olives whisked me away from Spinningfields to the Mediterranean. The simple Baba Ghanuj granted me authentically smokey bread, lifted with bursts of exotic pomegranate.

Regarding mains, a generous hunk of hot lamb was tender, satisfying with well-formed rice. The dish was properly slow-cooked, flavourful, zealously salty but ultimately one dimensional in taste, texture and presentation. Meanwhile, the falafel & fattoush salad was attractively arranged, with pleasingly contrasting colours and shapes. The falafel was skilfully formed, with befittingly crispy out edges and bready, soft centres. The dish provided a glorious balance of sweetness and acidity, and the fresh herbs worked wonders – a rare example of a salad that didn’t need a side of chips to make it delicious.

Comptoir Libanais Manchester produced food as genuine as the charming servers’ tans – a novelty for chain restaurants. Give it a go.

Comptoir Libanais Review Summary

Atmosphere 8/10    Cost 9/10    Quality 9/10    Service 9/10

 

Comptoir Libanais, Spinningfields Manchester Restaurant Review Lebanese Food

Wonderfully refreshing

Comptoir Libanais Manchester Spinningfields Restaurant Review Lebanese Food

Tomato & Halloumi

Comptoir Libanais, Spinningfields Manchester Restaurant Review Lebanese Food

Baba Ghanuj

Comptoir Libanais, Spinningfields Manchester Restaurant Review Lebanese Food

Falafel & Fattoush Salad

Comptoir Libanais, Spinningfields Manchester Restaurant Review Lebanese Food

Lamb Maqlooba

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Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester

The Black Cat Is The Top Dog

El Gato Negro – aka The Black Cat – an Edgar Allan Poe tale and a charming tapas restaurant on Manchester’s upmarket King Street. Tapas, at least in England, I find is generally predictable and served inauthentically; happily, El Gato Negro provided a welcome contrast with plates intriguingly designed and prepared in quick succession.

The oddly endearing Guinilla Peppers tasted curiously of Pickled Onion Monster Munch, which was no bad thing. Its cousin Mr Padron – unheard of three years ago, now everywhere – was fresh, flavourful and rightly, generously seasoned. I suggest the 2017 Award For Most Awesome Sounding Dish is given to ‘Gin Cured Salmon w/ Truffle Honey on Toast’. Although expensive, this little bundle of joy was well-balanced, somehow harmonious and certainly unique. The ‘Bikini’ was disappointingly not a swimsuit model but a rather pedestrian, small, ham and cheese toasty. The Chargrilled Sweet Potato provided a depth of flavour it had no right to have, with an ingeniously composed mango and chilli dressing.

The surprise star of the show was an ostentatiously elongated carrot. El Gato Negro’s equally elongated description of: ‘Chargrilled heritage carrots, aubergine purée, miso, walnut pesto and Manchego’, was an umami-filled revelation. I had something of a carrot based spiritual awakening (opened root chakra?) at Dinner By Heston, and El Gato Negro’s offering was a delicious close second to their two Michelin starred operation.

The savoury shenanigans were far from outdone by the beautifully presented sharing dessert. This ensemble of Spanish and European fancies was technically well crafted, and equally lovely on the palate. The perfect Barbie-pink macaroon was fought over and the ice-cream was as good as you’ll find anywhere.

El Gato Negro service was organised, expressive but not overbearing, and genuinely friendly by irksomely handsome, tattooed Spaniards. My only minor gripe from the well-oiled kitchen was most of the pescetarian dishes arriving at the end, rather than interspersed through the procession.

These culinary dopamine hits came at a cost; but, El Gato Negro Tapas’ urban cool environment and numerous memorable flavours made it certainly worth it.

El Gato Negro Tapas Review Summary

Atmosphere 8/10    Cost 6/10    Quality 10/10    Service 10/10

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

Padrón peppers with Halen Môn sea salt & Spicy-sweet guindilla peppers

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

Catalan bread with olive oil, garlic and fresh tomato

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

Bikini (toasted sandwich with jamón ibérico and manchego)

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Salt cod croquetas, piquillo pepper purée and aioli

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

Gin cured salmon w/ truffle honey on toast

IMG_9305

Chargrilled heritage carrots, aubergine purée, miso and walnut pesto, Manchego

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

Chargrilled sweet potato with mango, chilli and yoghurt dressing (GF)

Restaurant Review: El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester, Black Cat Spanish Catalonia Basque Country Food

A special selection of their favourite desserts

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Restaurant Review: Capri Cafe & Bar, Lytham

Capri – Lunching In Leafy Lytham

Capri Lytham, not a 1970s Ford-themed eatery, but a quaint cafe-come-bar furnished by ladies-who-lunch, just distant enough from Blackpool to feel safe. Being warmly greeted by the ethereal manager Leigh set a positive first impression: one reinforced throughout the afternoon by the support act of smart, sprightly servers.

The combination of the howling wind and amicable bar staff encouraged me to loiter around Capri’s well-stocked shelves with intent. Boodles Mulberry Gin with Elderflower Tonic was recommended – transpiring to be the ideal autumnal afternoon elixir. Additionally, Capri’s well-thought-out cocktail menu, produced an intriguing ‘Gin Zombie’ and elegant ‘Pomegranate And Elderflower Spritz’.

Regarding mains; the impressively meaty, yet wonderfully tender, tuna steak was served admirably rare as promised. The quality of this hunk of boldly-seasoned saltwater fish was obvious, the accompanying aioli was a delight, while the simple, fresh side salad did a job. Capri’s mushroom pizza successfully negotiated the culinary tight-rope of truffle; not enough is pointless – too much induces projectile vomiting – just enough provided a world of flavour. The pizza base carried through authentic smokey elements and retained its thin and crispy integrity; however, the crust lacked ambition. Although the mushrooms were oily; overall, the pizza packed a satisfying umami punch. Additionally, two sets of sweet potato fries were gloriously salty, impressively crispy, yet concealed soft and flavourful interiors.

What followed was a billowing freshly baked scone of such rustic British beauty, I requested the national anthem over Capri’s Spotify account. All that was left was to slurp a robust, yet velvety flat white, before settling a not cheap nor unreasonable bill.

Capri Cafe & Bar Lytham Restaurant Review

Rare Tuna Steak w/ Sweet Potato Fries

Capri Cafe & Bar Lytham Restaurant Review

Rarer Than Hen’s Teeth

Capri Cafe & Bar Lytham Restaurant Review

Mushroom & Truffle Pizza

Capri Cafe & Bar Lytham Restaurant Review

Autumnal Gin Serves

Capri Cafe & Bar Review Summary

Atmosphere 9/10    Cost 7/10    Quality 9/10    Service 10/10

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Restaurant Review: Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, Manchester

Rudy’s Pizza – Worth The Dough

Entry to Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza was a lottery: like a meek sixteen-year-old slipping into Wetherspoons with fake ID and an even faker moustache, I prayed for access. Rudy’s Pizza is too cool for bookings and the queue was an hour. Fortuitously, Seven Bro7hers BeerHouse was ready and waiting moments away, temporarily quenching hunger pangs with excellent craft ales.

I was chirpily greeted and ushered to ring side seats opposite the chefs. I asked about the different Mozzarella – I couldn’t tell a word they said – but felt their passion and gratefully received delicious samples. Rudy’s Pizza is about simplicity; dough contains only four ingredients (flour, water, salt and yeast) and pizzas are only cooked for one minute. Rudy’s is proudly Neapolitan – not ‘thin and crispy’ and absolutely not ‘deep pan’.

Rudy’s pizzas are a thing of beauty. Billowing doughy crusts, rising and falling, before popping with lightly charred edges, run down to tissue paper thin bases. This is the pizza you lament you’ve only had in Italy. The luxurious salty cheese, nostril filling basil aromas, umami pumped tomatoes – this is what no frills Italian cooking is all about. However, toppings inelegantly slide from base to plate, like a collapsed drunk falling from a taxi and everything was very salty; but, with so much savoury deliciousness filling your mouth nobody cared.

Rudy’s interior was rather plain but the atmosphere carried a real buzz. Considering the characterful wine and reasonable price point – give me Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza over High Street chains any day.

Rudy’s Pizza Review Summary

Atmosphere 8/10    Cost 10/10    Quality 9/10    Service 8/10

Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza Review Northern Quarter Manchester

Great Value Red

Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza Review Northern Quarter Manchester

Mozzarella Magic

Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza Review Northern Quarter Manchester

Just look at that crust…

Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza Review Northern Quarter Manchester

Slice of Heaven

Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza Review Northern Quarter Manchester

Polenta Cake

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Restaurant Review: L’Escargot Bleu, Edinburgh

The Early Bird Catches The Snail

In 1295, the ‘Auld Alliance’ brought Scotland and France together through shared interests in controlling England’s aggression. Written by John Balliol and Philip IV, it primarily formed a military and diplomatic alliance, but more importantly for Scots, brought a steady supply of vin francais. I wondered: had the seven hundred years of French culinary influence behind L’Escargot Bleu Edinburgh elevated Scottish cuisine, from deep fried everything and Irn-Bru to haute cuisine?

Nestled amongst the stone elegance of Edinburgh’s new town, away from the Playhouse traffic, into the neatly set, dimly lit, late Georgian streets sat L’Escargot Bleu. Behind the proud French navy façade, the interior was tastefully all matt grey, dark wood and flickering candles.

L’Escargot Bleu Edinburgh started with Sea Bass Ceviche, arriving oddly hidden under glossy leaves. The dish was vibrant, refreshing – full of citrusy tang. The fish was skillfully sliced, the onions deftly shaved and all and sundry kept their textures determinedly. It was excellent, yet I wanted more. L’Escargot Bleu Edinburgh didn’t match the eponymous ‘Don Ceviche’, by London’s Ceviche restaurants which I’d previously enjoyed; however, they’re Peruvian and double the price. Some well-seasoned, fresh mussels in breadcrumbs were served al la Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which was tasty, but not entirely convincing.

Regarding mains, the cod was a hauling beast of pristine white muscle, yet carelessly fell away from my fork’s gentle glance. The aquatic Olympian was gifted texture by a coat of crumbly, salty deliciousness; and, dutifully guarded by purposeful mussels, all lovingly coated in a boldly seasoned, ethereal light sauce. The deep Burgundy coloured Venison Skewers were of a supreme quality: if you’re into murdering majestic mammals this should be why. The deer was fiercely seasoned, sublimely tender, and rested on perfectly formed couscous.

The Vegetable Gratin was more impressive than any side had any right to be: it was a miracle of engineering, being so rich in dairy goodness yet enigmatically light. Solid seasoning, punchy garlic and a weighty dose of (I suspect) nutmeg added a magical je ne sais quoi.

L’Escargot Bleu Edinburgh’s cheeseboard wasn’t as compelling as it appeared: fine but unoriginal fromages, tediously uniform biscuits, avec oily, completely unnecessary salad leaves. However, the goat’s cheese was something special – thick, creamy, pungent mouth-filling titillation of the highest order.

With charming staff, quaffable wine, frighteningly good early-bird value and cosy, continental ambience, L’Escargot Bleu is an Edinburgh gem.

L’Escargot Bleu Review Summary

Atmosphere 9/10    Cost 10/10    Quality 8/10    Service 9/10

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

L’escargot bleu is listed as ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ in The List Eating & Drinking Guide, features in the Michelin guide each year.

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

L’escargot bleu is listed in the ‘Five Best Restaurants in Scotland’ by Pete Irvine.

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

L’escargot bleu & l’escargot blanc’s chef patron Fred Berkmiller was a finalist for the ‘Chef of the Year’ title at the CIS Excellence Awards 2016 and has been named a ‘Food Pioneer’ at the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2016

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

L’escargot bleu aims to: “unite the finest French and Scottish produce to provide a dining experience you will not forget”.

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

£14.90 Two Course Early Dinner

L'Escargot Bleu Review Edinburgh French Restaurant

“Provenance is key; there is only one rule in [their] kitchen – quality.”

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Restaurant Review: Northcote Manor, Blackburn

Northcote – Lancashire’s Lone Star Lunch

What better way to congratulate Jesus on rising from the dead, then sniffing out posh Sunday lunch? Northcote Manor, surrounding by sodden pastures and grey skies, is home to Lancashire’s only Michelin star and the formidable Nigel Haworth and Lisa Allen.

A sense of Michelin hospitality was undermined by walking both in and out of Northcote Manor without acknowledgement, and neither my coat nor dripping umbrella was offered to be removed. Service was organised, and the smartly presented young Northcote team were cordial, but the bus conductor inspired maître d with his rapid fire: “Have you decided – what would you like – what can I get you?” was less than comforting.

Lunch not exceeding an (outstanding) Amuse Bouche was a ‘first world problem’ par excellance: the first bite had the bittersweet honour of being Northcote Manor’s highlight. Melting magenta shells fleetingly fizzled, birthing a tart, sizzling beetroot flavour, that slapped my taste buds ’round the chops in no uncertain terms.

There was no choice but to accept the Dinner Jacket Potato Soup, which was more butter than jacket. The trendy foraged herbs added freshness, although someone’s hair added the opposite.

The Beetroot was the prettiest plate I’d ever seen: vibrant hues and floral shapes, elegantly intertwined in an act of vegetarian poetry. The sweet and acidic elements energetically danced but lacked a focal point. The alien looking Duck was heavily entombed but worked affably alongside the uplifting sorrel. Real elegance was on display, with an obvious great deal of skill, care and thoughtfulness.

The Salmon proudly commanded the plate, yet unselfishly yielded to the fork’s graze. The boldly seasoned fish and convivially sweet roe double teamed the earthy mushrooms, creating a bravely balanced dish, which spoke of land and sea in matrimony. While the Japanese touch of soy, shitake and ikura (roe) worked charmingly. The thoughtfully composed Lamb was quality dead baby sheep but lacked a je ne sais quoi. It was so rare it walked passed the oven while being properly seared and heartily seasoned. The mash was superlatively silky and the scorched and pickled onions added textures and talking points. Again, the composition was a real mark of finesse.

I seldom want sandwiches for dessert – bread with the Cheeseboard wasn’t required. However, the trio of cheeses was delicious, especially a terrified looking puddle of something Brie related. Northcote Manor’s cleverly crafted Cream Egg was an enchanting nod to the season, providing deftly constructed contrasting textures, and my personal favourite flavour combination of hazelnut and white chocolate.

Northcote Manor Review Summary

Atmosphere 8/10    Cost 7/10    Quality 8/10    Service 8/10

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Beetroot Amuse Bouche

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Jacket Potato & Foraged Herb Soup

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Three Beets, Yellow, Red & Candied, Pickles Shallot Hearts, Horseradish, Herbs and Flowers

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Crunchy Goosnargh Duck, Sorrel Cream, Oxalis

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Roasted Salmon, Shitake Mushroom, Wilted Watercress, Soy

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Bowland Lamb, Crème Fraiche Potato, English Onion, Pickled, Scorched

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn Lancashire

Three British Cheeses, House Crackers, Breads, Fireside Chutney and Fig Chutney

Northcote Manor Restaurant Review Blackburn

Hazelnut Chocolate Cream Egg

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Restaurant Review: Sticks ‘N’ Sushi, Covent Garden

Sticks ‘N’ Sushi – You Maki Miso Happy

I never understood what the fuss was all about. Sushi – uniform slivers of translucent fish, wrapped up in something or other. I mean, what was there really to get excited about? I thought sushi was an overpriced excuse for a meal, something for the pretentious and anorexic. How wrong I was. Sticks ‘N’ Sushi opened my eyes to a new world of flavours and exotic ingredients, each more exciting than the last.

Once seated, I was handed the sexiest menu in existence. Although overwhelming, I leafed through this glossy erotica, dribbling over the sheer aesthetics of it all. I was interrupted by exceptionally elegant cocktails promptly arriving; the ‘Yuzu Zoo’ ethereal citrus and plum notes delightfully danced around a distinguished gin base.

Sticks N Sushi followed a tapas format, with small but perfectly formed plates arriving quickly and often. For those with big appetites and expensive tastes, Sticks N Sushi was potentially exorbitant. However, the lower priced options were delicious, and dishes quickly added up to become surprisingly satisfying.

The Tuna Tartare was one of Sticks N Sushi’s premium dishes, and stunning was an understatement. Dressed up like a miniature fairy tail garden, the fine muscular units of tuna hiding underneath were world class. The tartar was so graceful in its presentation and flavour combinations that I savoured every morsel like Charlie Bucket with his Wonka chocolate bar.

The Spicy Tuna Maki was another dish I’d suggest is essential eating. Miso Aioli lovingly clung to the handsome tuna, which was itself maternally embraced by perfect rice. I now predict Miso Aioli to become the hipster condiment of 2017, dethroning 2016’s Flying Goose Siracha. I loved the Masago element too – tiny orange gems, tactfully adding colour, texture and taste.

The grilled sweet potato had a clever smokiness, and its Teriyaki dressing lifted this humble ingredient to something of status. The Gypsy Rolls were carefully prepared and offered decent value for money. Unfortunately, the desserts were something of a non-event. Diners choose from a variety of colourful things in the shape of golf balls, none of which left an impression. My advice is to skip pudding and take another look at the excellent cocktail menu.

Currently ranked 122 of 17,720 restaurants in London, Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden earned this pedigree by offering thoughtfully prepared majestic dishes in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan environment.

Kanpai!

Sticks N’ Sushi Review Summary

Atmosphere 10/10   Cost 6/10    Quality 9/10    Service 9/10

Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden Restaurant Review

Maki – Gypsy Roll

Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden Restaurant Review

Maki – Spicy Tuna

Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden London Restaurant Review

Yakitori – Satsumaimo Yaki

Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden Restaurant Review

Tuna Tartare

Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden Restaurant Review

Fondant, Mochi Ice Cream & Dark Chocolate

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