Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Alchemist, Media City

The Alchemist, Media City
Here I go again, fresh out of my gym gear and perving over pictures of food I ate ages ago. What have I become at all? Hungry, that's what. My natural state is stuffing my face with carbs and sugar, not stretching into lycra (granted, my lycra is covered in pictures of food). 

I'm a big fan of the Alchemist in Spinningfields, so when a new one opened at Media City, I was dying to go. Plus, their sharing platters and desserts were very much fresh in my mind. Although it's a few weeks back, I had started my crackers gym routine, and picked this as my treat day. 

So let's start with the cocktails. The Alchemist are the Nicolas Flamel of the cocktail world; fizzing, bubbling, colour changing, and monogrammed hip flasks to take home, are all standard shenanigans here. 

3.5oz of Happiness - Portobello gin, Chambord raspberry, vermouth, citrus: Very much a fan of choosing happiness at the moment, so it seemed the obvious cocktail to start with. It did indeed make me happy, because it tasted very much like heaven, and I got another flask for my collection. My mate Tricky tells me there's always time and reason for a hip flask.
Key lime pie - Bacardi Carta Blanca, Midori melon, Koko Kanu, apple, lime and vanilla meringue foam: The spoon sits on top of the meringue. Cocktails you can eat are high on my 'Rach could drink herself to death with this' list.
Rhubarb and custard - Chase rhubarb, Licor 43 vanilla, lemon, egg whites: Another cocktail masquerading as a dessert. I remember the days where the thought of egg whites in a cocktail made me think of bodybuilders, then I realised they were more towards cake on the egg spectrum. 
Bubblebath - Tanqueray gin, Aperol, Chambord, lemon and apple: Had to have at least one that bubbled! It literally goes wild before your very eyes. Straight out of Potions class. Snape would be so proud, always. 
Penicilin - Ardbeg 10 year, Chase marmelade vodka, lemon, ginger, burnt cinnamon: Wow wee this was a strong lad! A bit like Autumnal arson on the nose, but with a very smooth taste. The lemon and spices encourage a sweet rather than bitter taste. 
Solero - Ketel One vodka, Passoa, mango, apple, orange, citrus, white chocolate cream foam: This one is a little bit special. That cream is so thick, it's genuinely like eating a Solero lolly, King of summer coolers. 
The Alchemist is by no means just a cocktail bar, the food is pretty good too. Last time I went, I tried the vegetarian sharing platter, so it seemed only right to sample the meat one this time round.

Sharing platter - wings, nachos, falafel, beer battered prawns, pork bon bons and dips: It really did not disappoint. Highlights included cheese smothered nachos and falafel dipped in sweet chilli sauce.
Sharing platter
Padron peppers with salt flakes and crispy shallots: These little blighters have become somewhat of a fave, and have to be ordered if they are on the menu, for comparison purposes, naturally. Sweet yet perfectly salty. A great accompaniment to cocktails.
Padron peppers
Salt beef tacos with salt and pepper fries: Now this is the kind of thing I had in mind for cheat day. The fries that are as addictive as crack, and soft tacos rammed with salt beef, cheese and salad. This very much did the trick. I just had to address the sweet/savoury divide...
Salt beef tacos
Katsu chicken curry with panko breadcrumbs and coriander rice: And very pretty this was too. My dining partner in crime fancied something a little spicy, and the 'Chinese chippy' style curry sauce did not let us down. Note - my fries dipped in this sauce was perfection!
Katsu chicken curry
Belgian waffles: Did someone say sweet/savoury divide? Waffles to the rescue! I could eat them every day of my life. Fresh waffles dipped in sugar and cinnamon with a good dollop of ice cream ensured that I could barely move for around fifteen minutes.
Belgian waffles
Sticky toffee pudding: Oh how it glistens so... I have tried so many good ones recently. Gone are the days of the claggy sponge which you could weigh down your Sunday papers with. This was light, fluffy, and drowning in sauce. Good sauce to pudding ratio guys.
Sticky toffee pudding
Another brilliant trip to the Alchemist really does add fuel to the fire that this place certainly is not all hip flasks and no substance. Living Ventures do detail well, and that monogrammed hip flask on the sideboard acts as a constant reminder of the brilliant time you had, and how much you want to go back for another. 

Fox, Hale Barns

So life has been a bit upside down of late, so I'm playing catch up. While this in itself is a lovely task because I get to look at some mouth watering photos and recall happy memories, it's also meant that I've spent the last few evenings being very hungry indeed.

First, to Fox in Hale Barns. I decided to start with this one because it has to be the best meal I have had in a long time. That's correct, I'm getting it out there, right here, right now. Fox can do no wrong in my eyes; from the location in pretty Hale Barns, the people who work there, the decor, the outstanding food, and the Jo Malone influenced products in the toilets. Everything about this place oozes unctuous luxury, but in a refreshingly relaxed environment. This makes no sense unless you have been.

I felt so strongly about this that I pretty much wrote my conclusion in my introduction. I suppose I had better show you what all the fuss is about with the actual food.

Let me set the scene... The day is cold, bright and sunny, and my dining companion and I are headed on a scenic 'A road' tour through Altrincham, and into the leafy suburb of Hale Barns. They have a Booths... you know where I'm headed. I'm a big fan of a weekend road trip, so this made the excursion doubly exciting. After an initial kerfuffle with finding the car park, getting overly excited about the aforementioned Booths, and cooing over the beautiful exterior, we were greeted, seated and drinks were in our hands in record time. 

Sourdough garlic bread - half cheese, half tomato: I was hungrier than I had ever been in my entire life, and also a tad melodramatic, whilst perusing the menu. Our utterly delightful waitress (whose name escapes me, annoyingly), quickly suggested sourdough garlic bread whilst we decided. Unable to agree on our preferred flavour, half and half was ordered - perfect.
Sourdough garlic bread - half cheese, half tomato
Owner Danny Fox came for a chat whilst we were mid starter based conundrum, so we let him pick his favourites for us. Oh Danny, you picked two little belters.

Prawn pil pil - baked king prawns in olive oil, garlic, chilli, paprika, lemon, chopped parsley, served with crusty sourdough bread: For someone who used to have a pathological fear of eating prawns, I couldn't leave these alone. They weren't even my starter! Beautifully cooked in a rich and spicy sauce, mopped up with crusty bread. Not comfortable yet? You must be crackers. This dish is the equivalent of warm fluffy socks after a soak in a hot bubble bath. 
Prawn pil pil
Duck and pomegranate apple salad - mixed leaves, apple, pomegranate, toasted mixed seeds, balsamic and honey dressing: Forget everything you know about salad, immediately. This was so tasty! Warm duck, a tangy dressing, sweet fruit and those wonderfully nutty seeds. These are my kind of leaves.
Grilled hake - roasted cherry tomato, chorizo, puy lentil ragù, basil and a hint of chilli: Another recommendation from fantastic Mr Fox himself. I wish I could have captured the smell of this for you, and hasten the development of the technology which would allow me to do so. You will just have to trust me that this is Autumnal bliss.
Grilled hake
Roasted succulent sirloin of Red Hereford beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and steamed vegetables all finished with a rich red wine gravy: Warmed me right through this did. Behold. Already drenched in that glistening gravy, they give you more on the side; Fox and I are going to be friends. Anywhere that serves me parsnips when I'm already a little chilly will be forever in my good books. It even comes with a glass of free prosecco.
Sunday roast
We picked some skinny fries and grilled asparagus to have on the side of our lunches, the star of the show being the addition of sesame seeds to the asparagus.
Sticky toffee pudding with a rich butterscotch sauce and ice cream: There's a nip in the air and wind in my hair; pudding time is upon us. Looks as dense as a house brick with its saturated toffee sponge, but was genuinely as light as a feather.
Sticky toffee pudding
Crème brûlée - oven cooked cream with mixed berries: Good crack on that sugar crust, not too sweet and served with a lovely homemade compote.
Crème brûlée
Drinks: Lovely selection of drinks, ranging from decent beers (can highly recommend Lagunitas Day Time for those not wanting to be hammered at lunchtime), mocktails and cocktails, and an impressive wine list (finishing the bottle is highly recommended for those who do wish to be hammered at lunchtime).
We rounded the meal off with a rather civilized pot of tea, which came served in a very pleasing speckled duck egg blue teapot and cup. Even their tableware makes me smile.
Why am I writing this up whilst on a gym and meal programme? I pretty much summed up Fox at the start of this post, and I'm sure my pictures alone will have left you fancying a trip. Fox is everything I love about dining out; good company, wonderful food, a bit of friendly chat with our servers, comfortable surroundings, and those little extras which make the experience that bit special. Front of house and kitchen teams are together working in perfect harmony, which will make you want to stay all day.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Review: Hofmeister Helles Lager

Hofmeister Helles Lager
 Evening all. As some of you will already know, I am not great with beer. Strangely (mainly through association), I actually know quite a lot about the stuff, and can generally pick out quite specific smells from the malt and hops, but can I drink it? Not a chance. I do this ridiculous face that makes me look like I am having some sort of episode. It's a weakness in my food and drink game. Maybe it's like olives, and I'll become accustomed to it as I get older (the olive thing literally just hit!).

However, when the lovely folk at Hofmeister asked me to review their Helles Lager, I knew the chap for the job. My homie Phil took up the challenge like a true warrior. Here's what he had to say on the matter.
Evidence of my own poor form

“Hey, how do you fancy doing a guest review? It’s for a lager! Think it’s called Hofmeister…”

“Hofmeister? Seriously?” Immediately I’m transported back…. the year is 1996 and as alcohol driven students we need a cheap lager to support our Rugby union based drinking activities (you get allotted 5 players each and every time your player touched the ball you are required to have a swig). So as a willing volunteer I trudged down to Threshers and immediately spotted 2 crates of 24 cans of yellow nectar (with a strange German bear emblazoned on it), but they were only £9.99 and 3.2% ABV. So I immediately purchased them (along with numerous bags of Nik Naks, Skips and several Chicken and Mushroom pot noodles) and somehow carried them back like a beast of burden.

As you can imagine I don’t remember much of the rest of that weekend but the crux of the over-elaborate tale was that the perception of Hofmeister 20 years ago wasn’t one of alcoholic delight, but more of being cheap and available.

Fast forward to 2017 and hearing the word Hofmeister again… as an older, wiser lager drinker I was ready to take up the battle again but in significantly less quantity.

So after that potentially unnecessary preamble, what was it like?

Well in summary Hofmeister Helles Bavarian Lager is pretty good. The branding is modern and it comes in a crown cap bottle. At 5% ABV it’s considerably stronger than the original incarnation, and it definitely tastes more grown up and interesting. Its appearance is clear and golden in colour with a light, not overly carbonated taste which makes it very drinkable.

The whole drinking experience feels more mature, and you can tell effort has been made to develop the brand and taste to stand up to the ever strengthening competition in 2017. It’s great to have Hofmeister back and I’ll definitely ‘follow the bear’ to see where there journey goes from here.
Hofmeister Helles Lager
Everyone needs a drinking buddy
Buy Hofmeister Helles here
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