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

Monday 30 March 2015

Almost Famous - Great Northern, Manchester

Everyone loves Almost Famous.

In fact, for the last few years it has been the number one recommended place to eat by friends and colleagues.

When I had a birthday meal last year at Solita, most of my friends had suggested Almost Famous as their favourite place.  

When we went to Red's True BBQ for a midweek meal, three different people declared that if I thought that was good, I would be blown away by Almost Famous.

Finally, this week, I had a colleague say that 'you can't call yourself a burger lover unless you have tried Almost Famous'.

My expectations were well and truly set, but let me now set your expectations for the blog post you are reading:

You're not going to like everything I have to say. 

Hannah and I were due to catch a train from Manchester Piccadilly last Friday night, ready to begin our weekend adventure to London.  

We had a couple of hours spare to have some food so what better opportunity to finally give in and try Almost Famous in The Great Northern.

The new restaurant, opened in 2013, is right next to the Manchester 235 casino and the All Star Lanes restaurant/bowling alley.  There are so many great places to eat and drink at this end of Manchester, making it my favourite part of the city.

There was no one there to greet us upon entering Almost Famous but I approached the bar and we were told to take our pick of tables.  This was not a difficult decision as my wife directed us to an amazing table that had been filled with sweets!

The menu is my kind of heaven, filled with spectacular burger combinations and funky cocktails - I could have eaten everything on offer.

Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Sour & Root 66
Both concoctions were spot on but the Fruit Sour drink won out as we both ordered this for our second round.

Hannah went for a double cheeseburger with garlic butter brioche, bacon, chorizo, bbq fried onions, marinara, famous sauce, french's, Parmesan and chillies.  

It was scrumptious with the addition of chorizo which gave it a Spanish twist.

Triple Nom
My selection was also a double cheeseburger but with pulled pork, coleslaw and famous & redneck BBQ.  

The first bite is forever memorable with the perfectly seasoned patty and juicy pulled pork.  The burger itself tastes very much like a McDonald's cheeseburger only better... much better.

Bacon Bacon
At Almost Famous, you order your sides separately so we decided to share a portion of the Bacon Bacon fries.  

Regular skin on fries and sweet potato fries are mixed together and covered in baconnaise and bacon rain (crispy bacon bits).  

I love what they do to potatoes here - simply genius.

We had room for something sweet after our delicious mains and Hannah was naturally drawn to the chocolate dish on the menu.

This 'I Scream Sundae' was served with chocolate brownie pieces and whippy ice cream topped with whipped cream, nuts and chocolate fudge sauce.

Just enough to leave us satisfied.

The food is great.  It compares well with other restaurants I love such as nearby Red's True BBQ and The Farmer's Arms in Bolton but I wouldn't say it was in a league of its own.

However, our experience was not 100% perfect.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that I wouldn't go back to the Great Northern branch of Almost Famous.

Let me explain...

Hannah made an interesting comment during our meal last Friday.  She said that it felt like our generation had grown up and was starting to open restaurants that try and evoke memories of our time at university.

This is exactly how I feel about Almost Famous in The Great Northern.  
It is like sitting and having a meal in the university nightclub whilst indie disco plays loudly in the background and the lights are too low to really see what you are eating.

University was a brilliant time but I am now 28 (nearly 29) and as much as I loved the dingy union dance floor back in the day, I have moved past it now.  What I want is a bright environment where the music isn't so loud that I have to shout just to talk to my wife.

Add to that the staff who were difficult to get hold of and a little rude.  They milled around in groups discussing their plans for the weekend when it would be better if they engaged the customers to explain, amongst other things, where the cutlery is.  I didn't really understand why everyone around us had an allocated waiter/waitress to serve them but we had to get up and find someone. 

Back at uni, someone in the know would tell you about this "super cool" bar and everyone would immediately nod and agree about how great it is.  I kind of get the impression that this happened with Almost Famous and no one really wants to admit that we don't think it is quite as cool as everyone says it is.

Perhaps I'm just being a grouch in my old age but I found the whole experience very annoying.  

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon

Sunday 22 March 2015

The Chocolate Cafe, Ramsbottom by Hannah

Hello, my name is Hannah and I'm a chocoholic... Give me sweet stuff over savoury any day.

After having the mother of all headaches, I felt the urge to seize this beautiful day and get out and about in the countryside. Fresh air was desperately needed to blow my cobwebs away.

The entirety of Bolton is currently gridlocked due to roadworks EVERYWHERE so the hubby and I decided to venture elsewhere with nowhere in particular in mind. After having a ride out for an hour we ended up homing in on our favorite place - Ramsbottom.

We had a gander around Summerseat Garden Centre and then tengo hambre (I have hunger) happened. This is my code word to Elliott that it's time to find somewhere to eat quick before the grumpy hungry Hannah sets in.

I really fancied the Chocolate Cafe. Last time we came was about 2 years ago and we had the most awesome brekkie. The signs outside were enough to make me to take a diversion through its doors.

On the ground floor they have a lovely gift shop packed with a range of exclusive chocolate gifts, even chocolate pizzas!

If you have a chocoholic in your family then this is a great place to get unique presents, especially with Easter fast approaching.

After scouring the menu I decided to opt for an afternoon tea to get a selection of goodies that wouldn't ruin my Mum's roast later on. As you can see below, the most amazing stack of food turned up.

Starting from the bottom, our sandwiches. I went for a BLT, which was packed with bacon and yumminess. Elliott went for a tuna melt which was amazing with two types of cheese. They also came with a side salad, homemade coleslaw and crisps. The sandwiches were packed with filling. 

Moving up, fruit scones with cream and jam. I was way too full to pack these in. Unfortunately, raisins and currents are my all time hated food stuffs (closely followed by aniseed flavoured stuff and cinnamon) so I asked for a box so I could take them home for my Mum and Nanna. I know they won't have trouble polishing them off later!

Finally, we had a selection of Chocolate Cafe chocolates - champagne truffles, walnut chocolates, little penguins, and chocolate shards with bubblegum millions, popping candy and mint crystals. The bubblegum ones were my fave, reminding me of my school days going into the off licence on the walk home for a huge paper bag of millions. Deee-lish!

The reason we came was for a drink and a quick bite, and from my memory I remember the hot chocolates being the reason to come back. I ordered a luxury hot chocolate, which was to die for, made from layers of real melted chocolate and textured milk. 

It came with a  plate of chocolate delight - marshmallows, cream, grated milk and white chocolate and a couple of white chocolate sticks. Liquid heaven!

Elliott normally steers us clear of cafes as he never feels like he's had a decent meal in them. However, he's definitely been converted by this place. He loved it and I got my chocolate fix in the process. The food and drink was amazing. The service was also impeccable and I'd like to mention the young man who served us as he was a delight.

Looking at the view through the window I noticed a banner in front of the fountain advertising the annual Chocolate Festival next weekend, so if you're around go and sample the delights!

I'm gutted we won't be around for it, as we are venturing off to our fair capital city for my birthday. London town blogs to look forward to!

The Chocolate Café on Urbanspoon

Sunday 15 March 2015

Lamb Masterclass at Cook:Manchester

I can't say that I have won many prizes in my life.  In fact I'm still waiting for my lottery win. However, my luck was about to change...

A couple of weeks ago I entered a Twitter competition being held by Cook:Manchester.  The prize was a place on their Lamb Masterclass with the legendary chef Rob Owen Brown which, to my utter surprise and delight, I won! I've never been taught to cook in my life so I was both excited and a little nervous.

Cook:Manchester is a professional kitchen that is available to hire for companies to trial their food, host a launch party or build their business.  By chance, I was at the kitchen a few days before my Lamb Masterclass when I attended the Sugar Dumplin' launch party being held there.

The following Sunday I was up bright and early to drive into Manchester for my eagerly anticipated day.  On arrival, I met a lovely bunch of people whom I shared the day with. We even got chef's whites to wear (and take home)!

What followed was an incredible day which was suitable for both absolute beginners like me and experts.  I like to cook but most of my dishes come from jars or cans, so preparing a meal from scratch and taking it from carcass to plate was eye opening and confidence boosting, not to mention so easy to do once you've been taught how.

We began by pairing up and fetching our lamb carcass out of the chiller and onto the work surface.  Rob guided us through the butchery process as we worked our way through the lamb to produce a tray full of all the different cuts.  The hands-on tutorial was so good that I would feel confident preparing a whole lamb if presented with the opportunity again.

It was well explained, clean and educational, leaving me with new found knowledge of each different part of the lamb, how to cut and prepare it.  

That led us onto the five dishes we were to cook that day:

Lamb and Barley Broth
Garlic Smoked Loin with Honey, Spring Onion and Ginger
The Ultimate Lancashire Hot Pot
Roast Rack of Lamb with"Cassis" Thyme Fondant
Sticky Stuffed Slow Braised Breast of Lamb

We began with vegetable preparation, something that I used to struggle with when cooking. Rob talked us through the easiest way to get your vegetables ready - an invaluable lesson.

The broth was our first dish to get on the stove and once it was on the hob, it bubbled away nicely all day.  I had it for lunch every day last week!

Our attention then turned to creating our Lamb Hot Pot.  I recently received my 'Adopted Northerner' certificate and knowing how to cook a Hot Pot will definitely work in my favour up here in Lancashire. I took the dish home and the Wife and I enjoyed it for dinner that evening. I'm not fully Northern yet though, as the Wife pointed out I forgot red cabbage...oops!

Loin of lamb was our next cut to cook and it turned out to be my favourite of the day.  Served on a bed of spring onion, ginger and honey, this oriental tasting dish was amazing and I was triumphantly able to reproduce it at home this week.  My Wife loves it as much as I do and we plan to cook it once a week from now on.

Ready to take home at the end of the day, we stuffed a breast of lamb with black pudding and thyme before tying it with string and cooking it in the oven.  I hadn't tried breast of lamb before and tend not to use black pudding but they go perfectly together. 
Additionally, knowing how to tie up lamb ensures I will pass Monica's Invention Test if I ever end up on Masterchef...

Finally, we delivered our rack of lamb dish.  Learning how to cook fondant potato was incredible and remarkably easy, so it will no doubt end up as a favourite here at home.  Preparing the rack was fun and, along with the Cassis sauce we made, it tasted superb.  A great dish to cook when you want to impress.

We took enough prepared meals to last for days... to the point me and the Wife have eaten lamb every single day this week! We were also allowed to take the rest of our uncooked meat which included leg, shoulder, fillet, rack and loin of lamb.  

The best thing I took away from my day with Rob at Cook:Manchester was cooking confidence.  I would never have attempted to cook any of the dishes before or known how to prepare any of the ingredients. In fact I wouldn't know where to start. However, the masterclass has given me the boost I need to stop buying takeaways and ready meals, and start being more adventurous in the kitchen.

The entire day left me with a new found passion to cook, in fact, the leg of lamb I took home with me is currently slow-roasting in the oven ready to be served with pre-prepared fondant potatoes.  I even bought a new roasting pan!

Ooh get me!

A few more pictures courtesy of the fantastic Samantha at Starlings Photography.  Hopefully her much more impressive pictures will give you a better feel for the day:

The day was an incredible experience and I send out a huge thanks to Sean and the team at Cook:Manchester as well as Rob for making it a special day.

There are a number of similar events planned with the next one being a Pork Masterclass.  Get yourself a ticket, it's lots of fun, worth every penny and it'll take your cooking to new levels!