The tales of a half-Spanish, Southern guy with Yorkshire roots living in Bolton and looking for some half-decent grub

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Artisan, Manchester by Hannah

"Hi Babe, what's happening... Let's get involved!" the fashionable Maitre D' enthusiastically piped up as he ushered us to our table. Yep I was definitely in Manchester today! In the trendy area of Spinningfields to be exact.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I ventured into Manchester to meet five of my girlfriends whom I met at university whilst studying for my Masters degree at MMU Business School. I hadn't seen them since our last exam in April so I was really looking forward to catching up. There was lots to celebrate... Not only have we recently finished our 2 year degree and are patiently awaiting our results due in a couple of weeks (eek!), we had a 30th birthday, an engagement and a couple of promotions at work to toast. Party time all around! For those of you who know me, you're probably sick of hearing me go on about this ruddy Masters degree but I don't care, it's my proudest achievement to date!

Aisha kindly made all the arrangements. It's not easy getting us girls together when we are all so busy! 

First of all we met up in The Alchemist for cocktails. Luckily Laura was already sat in the bar waiting. As I was stood threatening my iPhone she was watching me through the window as I was trying to work out from Google Maps where the bar was. It turns out the place was directly behind me and my friend rang me telling me to turn around. The penny dropped after I saw her waving.. doh! No sense of direction, not even with sat nav in my hand! 

I digress, the cocktails in The Alchemist were lovely, pretty and unusual. I plumped for my old favourite, a Cosmopolitan, whilst Fran had a White Cosmo. This involves a orchid frozen in a spherical ice cube floating in Green Mark Russian vodka, Briottet elderflower, Cointreau, citrus, white grape juice and lemon bitters. I had a taste and it was delicious! All of the cocktails looked and tasted gorgeous.

By the time we'd had a good chinwag, our table was ready at Artisan so we headed over to the restaurant. It was only a short walk away. That was when we 'got involved'. Needless to say the Maitre D's choice of words had us all giggling, bless him!

As you'd expect from a Living Ventures establishment, the restaurant itself is quirky, upmarket and trendy. It is set in a 12,000 square foot, semi-industrial space on the first floor of The Avenue North in Spinningfields. The restaurant itself wants you to think 'artist's loft studio meets concrete warehouse, stripped back and raw'. 

As we walked in there was a huge bar to the right with the enormous restaurant laid before us. The open kitchen was bustling to the left of us and as we walked to our seats there were even herbs growing underneath glass tables and glass cases full of interesting exhibits on display. It was reasonably busy when we got there and by the time we were ready to leave this enormous eatery was heaving. For someone who is not a frequent Manchester goer these days, it is obviously a very popular spot to have a bite to eat and a drink.

Because it was lunchtime a few of us went for pizzas. Aisha who had eaten here previously recommended these because they were so thin and crisy, I couldn't resist! 


Prosciutto ham, mozzarella, mushrooms and Grana Padano pizza
This was my choice. As a huge lover of prosciutto and mushrooms at the moment this was perfect combination. The pizza was unbelievably good with a real tang from the tomato base. Also a very liberal sprinkling of toppings.

Classic American hot with salami, tomato, mozzarella and chilli flakes pizza
This was Laura's choice, a classic and a really hot one. She loved it!

Mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil
Alison plumped for a simple but effective pizza with very fresh ingredients.  A traditional taste of Italy which she thoroughly enjoyed.

NY deli pastrami, bacon, smoked applewood, French’s mustard and olive pizza
Aisha's choice. This pizza looked really interesting and if I were to come again I'd probably choose this myself next time.  Who needs New York when you have Spinningfields.

Deli Board
Hannah H (yes 2 Hannahs, it is a great name after all hehe!) went for a cheese and meat deli board where you can mix and match ingredients depending on what takes your fancy. Served with fresh breads and pickles.

Feta, orange, sugar spiced nuts and pomegranate with sweet chilli and lemon dressing salad
Fran was being good and opted for a salad. This wasn't your average salad though, it was packed full of interesting flavours and ingredients to liven things up! I have to say, pomegranate seeds on salads are the best invention ever!

There was a resounding applause from our group about Artisan. Everyone loved the food and I have to say the quality and flavour was much better than I was expected for a place so big. The service was also really good too and the staff were very knowledgeable about the menu.

I would also like to mention that Artisan was very accommodating for Hannah H's surprise birthday cookie which Alison managed to smuggle in before we arrived. The waitress brought it out to the table with the candles lit and a set of plates for us to share it. A rather tasty Millie's cookie to be exact! Happy Birthday Hannah! 

Overall I had a fantastic time. Artisan is a great word to describe the food here. In fact, both the food and the company were amazing. I would definitely go back to both The Alchemist and Artisan. Very memorable, relaxed places to spend a Saturday afternoon with the girlies. I can't wait for our next outing!

Artisan on Urbanspoon

Saturday 1 November 2014

Levanter Fine Foods, Ramsbottom

I am unashamedly proud to be Spanish.

That was the case back when I got a huge amount of stick from my friends as England beat Spain in Euro '96 and it was still the case when Spain marched to victory in the three consecutive football tournaments of 2008, 2010 and 2012.

I have also been certified as an adopted-Lancastrian, according to my Wife, after complaining about it being 'too hot down South' and wishing for 'a bit of drizzle' during a trip to visit my family in Hampshire.

Given the above, I am sure you can imagine my delight when I found out that a tapas bar had opened over in Ramsbottom, bringing together the world's best cuisine with England's best county.  

I have had my fair share of tapas all across Spain and have found that nothing is better than a small backstreet bar that serves up a lively atmosphere and authentic food.  As far as taperias go in England, I have not had much success finding a good one... until now.

Levanter rises up (pun intented) above all other tapas bars I have been to in the UK.  In fact, it gives the best taperias of Spain a run for their money too.

We had tried to eat at Levanter a few times over the summer but they always seemed to be full.  On this visit it was almost as busy but luckily we arrived as a couple were leaving.

The restaurant is small with a large bar, just like in Spain, and the atmosphere was lively in a homely way.  Like stepping into a house full of your family who are already having rousing conversation.  

It is this welcoming and bubbly atmosphere that makes the tapas bars a success and Levanter is no exception.

We were greeted warmly and seated before being offered drinks.  

And guess what?!  They even serve Fanta Lemon: my quintessential drink of holidays in the sun. 

What followed was the best tapas I have had the pleasure to eat for a very long time.  The dishes are served traditionally, so they arrive as and when they are cooked.  You can keep reordering to your heart's content.

Lamb Cutlets and Salsa Verde:

Often, chuletas de cordero can be chewy and without flavour but the team at Levanter deliver incredible flavour and texture with this dish.  Served with olives and a tangy salsa, it was a great start to our meal.

Mussels in Fino with Serrano:
Served in a cast iron pot, the mussels were large, fresh and delicious.  The small slivers of garlic and red onion brought flavour to the broth at the bottom which I finished off with the bread.

Fuego Chorizo with Honey and Sherry Vinegar:
A modern twist on the old classic chorizo al vino tinto you find in most taperias.  This version knocked the proverbial socks off its traditional counterpart as the flavour from the honey complimented the meat perfectly.

Deep Fried Manchego and Crispy Jamón:
Without doubt the best tapa I have eaten. Melted cheese and a sweet dipping salsa made for a wonderful flavour on the tongue.
I would go back just for this dish.  In fact I want it again now!

I could not be more happy that I have finally found a restaurant in the UK worthy enough to be called a taperia.  Even better, it is right on my doorstep in the amazing food hotspot that is Ramsbottom.

One thing that is for sure:  when Spain and Lancashire come together good things happen. 

Levanter Fine Foods on Urbanspoon

Sunday 19 October 2014

Bents Garden and Home, Warrington by Hannah

This weekend we took our poodles to the groomers over in Leigh. For poodles, ours aren't the stereotypical diva dogs who enjoy pampering so the brakes went on as soon as they realised where they were going!

It normally takes about 4 hours until they're done so I decided to take Elliott to Bents Garden and Home

Elliott isn't what you'd call green fingered so he wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of going to a garden centre. However I did my wifely duty and proved him wrong!

I haven't been to Bents for a number of years but the one thing I remembered about it was the amazing food. 

I was so surprised when we pulled into the car park at how much the shop has expanded since my last visit.  Not only has the store itself grown but the restaurant has too. Luckily the restaurant was still as good as I remembered serving delicious looking hot and cold food and an enticing patisserie.

Elliott decided to have a Portuguese chicken in a garlic wrap. I had a mozzarella, beef tomato and basil toastie on tomato focaccia bread. Our lunch also came with a fresh small side salad and some salted crisps. Heaven!

The allure of the patisserie counter was just too much so we also got a white and dark chocolate tart and a piece of sticky fudge cake for afters. We were so full we didn't have any tea!

After lunch, I went a bit mad buying up winter plants and shrubs for my flower beds and planters. I was like a kid in a sweet shop! Everything is really well laid out and for a gardening amateur the signs helped me pick out plants I wasn't going to kill in a week's time.

The store also has an amazing collection of homeware and a food hall. 

The seasonal Christmas department was out of this world so I must give it a mention. It was packed full of beautiful trees, twinking lights and festive decorations. It was a real experience and got me all giddy, even though we've not got past Halloween yet! If you've got kids they will really enjoy coming here too. There are plenty of toys and a miniature Christmas village to keep them entertained. 

It's definitely worth a visit and be prepared to stay the day because once you start shopping it's difficult to stop. Husbands don't be dismayed, Elliott really enjoyed it and he normally hates this sort of day out. Suffice to say it kept us occupied the whole 4 hours and if we didn't have to pick up the dogs we'd have probably have stayed longer.

Bents is currently undergoing further expansion so I'm intrigued to visit again to see the end result.

PS... in case you were wondering, the dogs look very beautiful now so a good day was had all round. Hurrah!

Bents Garden & Home on Urbanspoon

Debbie Halls-Evans, Pop Up Restaurant, Horwich

When it comes to food experiences we like to try new and exciting things which was certainly the case this Friday night.

At the recent Bolton Food Festival Gala Dinner, we tasted the delightful cooking of Debbie Halls-Evans who won Channel 4's 'The Taste'.  We were delighted to see that our local lass was hosting a number of 'Pop Up Restaurants' in Horwich which we could not miss out on!

Taking over the Ice Cream Parlour at the Cowshed on Winter Hey Lane, we were treated to a 3D dining experience to remember.

With only five tables, this was an interactive and intimate meal.
Debbie's bubbly personality wasn't just shown in the quality and presentation of the food but she also took the time to come out of the kitchen and explain each course to the diners.  

Each course was presented beautifully and boasted a range of subtle flavours that confidently balanced with each other.  We were royally stuffed at the end of the evening and will be returning the next time Debbie hosts an evening to remember.

Information about upcoming events can be found at Debbie's website.

It's Grim Up North Manchester restaurants

Friday 29 August 2014

Bolton Food Festival 2014

Bolton Food Festival 2014 has been and gone.

I am sad just to be writing that... but not to worry because I am left with the most wonderful memories from an amazing weekend scoffing good food, stocking up on home-made produce and meeting some wonderful foodie people!

Below are a selection of photos to give you a 'flavour' (pun intended...) of the Festival.

For lunch on the Saturday we tried The Hungry Gecko Asian street food. It was so good we came back especially on Bank Holiday Monday to have it again!

Jackie Kearney, of Masterchef fame, produces some amazing food and we were lucky to try the Nasi Goreng with Five Spice Pork Belly and the Sloppy Joe Rendang.  I want this again...NOW. This is definitely the best street food I've ever tasted, it's a shame their retro silver trailer isn't permanently based outside the Town Hall.

Jackie was being helped out by Debbie Halls-Evans, recent winner of The Taste on Channel 4, who served us our food.  Debbie had done one of the dishes at the Gala Dinner the night before and I am pleased to hear she will soon be opening a pop-up restaurant in Horwich.

The festival is a great celebration of food and I was delighted that so many people turned out for the event.

I am already looking forward to next year!

See you in 2015!