Thursday, 10 April 2014

Kitchenette - Manchester

I'm just going to put it out there; I'm a bit over burgers. And hot dogs. And all the dirty food spin offs that have popped up around Manchester like a post MacDonald's binge rash on the sensitive skin of a greasy teenager.

I've always had an uneasy relationship with food spawned from deep fat fryers, covered in sugar and smothered in sauce. Unfortunately I was born a woman, in a time when the media has boomed and incessant images of the 'perfect' figure are beamed into my eyeballs 300 times a day, whether I'm taking notice or not. At my grand old age I should have learnt not to notice, but no matter how much my brain/education tells me to ignore it, I still guilt trip myself about every sinful extra calorie that passes my lips.

But I ramble and this food/female hand wringing guilt issue is often written about. Someone should just pay me to write a post-feminist op-ed column about being a lazy post feminist (hint, hint? - Ed) but I think Vice already have something like that.

So it's back to my high and mighty food opinions, because how dare I be more than a two dimensional food reviewer...

Kitchenette has just opened up at the top of Oxford Road, opposite the Palace Theatre. You will have walked past it a million times without batting an eyelid when it was Fellicini; for this reason Mud Crab (who owned Fellicini) have stuck some plant pots outside and had a rebrand. This is why we noticed it after the Cornerhouse told us there was a 30 minute wait and I needed feeding ASAP.

We almost walked past. After judging the down at heel diner look and the menu full of such un-original dishes as burgers, hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese, we thought we'd have eaten it all already. But in the corner of the menu was a little box, a box which contained the words 'Eat Buns Eat More Buns.' All of a sudden I realised that 'HOLY SHIT THIS PLACE DOES THOSE STEAMED BUNS YOU GET IN CHINA TOWN' (and yes my brain was actually shouting at me and I'm not a knob who just likes to use caps; I'd entered some sort of hunger brain meltdown and was just stood on a street corner drooling/shouting to myself).

So we went in. I'm glad we did.

Kitchenette has been made over in an industrial vibe (grey walls, metal bars, bit shabby), but with enough comfort factored in for harassed grandparents to feel at ease, when being pulled in for pre/post theatre snacks by their burgeoning-on-obese grandbrats. There are leather booths and large tables, a view of the canal (not sure if that's a plus or not, at least there's natural light in the back) and both times I've been in there's been a random mix of students, daters, suits and friends.

Pulled pork sliders, they so cute
First time we ate, we eschewed everything on the menu for the steamed hirata buns. Actually I lie, we had the pulled pork sliders to start (not my choice, it's another food stuff I'm pretending I'm over because I know how many calories it contains) and the pulled pork was pretty good - none of this salty, overly sweet, sauce laden gloop you get these days; properly seasoned, soft with a bit of bite and a salty/savoury warmth.

Back to the buns - these are basically like the steamed bun you get in Chinatown (as I already said), however these are:
 - much bigger
 - not filled
 - flat like a pancake, you fold them over like a taco.

The idea is that you order your buns and then order the filling - so we went for tempura sea bass and the sticky chicken. The sea bass was light, not greasy, divinely crisp on the outside, steamed silkiness on the inside and enough for two. The sticky chicken came in a salty, moreish bbq/teriyaki sauce with sesame seeds for extra crunch - it would have been better a bit warmer, but that was the only downside. You get lettuce for a fresh crunch and (my favourite thing in the world) kimchee to add a fermented cabbage punch in the mouth that you can't get from anything else (anything else not being fermented, spicy cabbage).

Superb fried chicken
Crunchy pork salad
Second time around we had spent the day carb-loading, so buns were out of the question. We started with the fried chicken - natch it comes in a takeaway carton, a serving aesthetic I honestly quite like (and I'm not being post-modern ironic or nuffink with that statement) - whoever's in the kitchen at Kitchenette knows how to fry chicken. Crispy, spicy batter, no taste of oil and the most tender, succulent, steamed chicken on the inside. The Colonel's got stiff competition.

Hanger steak was served medium-rare without us having to ask; silky thin slices cut through by a punchy Asian style salad was made perfect with a side of fries. The pork salad was a gamble (I usually hate the limp lettuce excuse for a mains salad you get everywhere in Manchester) but I wasn't disappointed. Finely shredded veg and crispy, sweet pork were covered in a gossamer of peanut/chilli/lime dressing - zingy, fresh and the perfect contrast to the buns I ordered on the side - well, I couldn't help it and the pork salad went so well in them and what about my kimchi fix...

Kitchenette's neat fusion of Asian and dirty foods (I would call it dirty Asian, but who knows what google searches I'll come up in if I do), spot on service and their better than other dirty restaurants cooking skills, means I think Kitchenette will ride out this dirty food storm and be a Manchester stalwart that you definitely won't walk past again.

Price for one starter, two mains, one side, two beers and two cokes - £31.50

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 8/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yep, already notched up quite a few visits!

Kitchenette, 60 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5EE - 0161 228 6633 - website - Twitter - Facebook

Kitchenette on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 March 2014

The taking of a freebie

Recently there has been an enormous amount of hand wringing, commenting, denigration and argument about whether accepting a free meal/product invalidates your opinion as a writer. The instigator of the most recent blather was the doyen of eating out whilst getting paid for it (and one of my personal writing icons), Jay Rayner with this tweet:

Following this comment every other food critic, restaurateur and (you guessed it) food blogger, put on their clomping sized nines and entered the argument. And now I'm writing a bloody blog post on the subject as I think we need to stop for a minute and cease this self-gratifying naval gazing (and I haven't reviewed anywhere for a while, so I need content).

Let's interview me because this is my blog and guess what, the content is driven solely by my opinion; then you can all write comments on the bottom and we can prolong this argument across several social media platforms for the rest of the week. (If you want another blogger's opinion on the matter/to read something far more eloquent, check out The Hungry Manc's take on freebies HERE).

Most important question - have you ever taken a freebie?
Yes I've accepted freebies and I continue to accept them. When I started this blog my aspirations were to become the next Marina O'Loughlin, writing coyly witty prose from the food frontlines and never truly exposing my identity. Then came the crashing realisation that eating out regularly enough to create continued, interesting content was prohibitively expensive. Along came a restaurant asking me to pop in, try the food, give them my opinion and lo and behold, I now regularly accept a couple of meals/products a month and pay for the rest out of my own pocket.

How can your opinion still be valid if you accept a freebie?
My gut reaction to that question is 'who the fuck cares?' I'm a food blogger, I write my blog as a creative outlet/as a hobby/for fun and because I value my own opinions far too highly. Compared to a national newspaper I have a tiny readership, who can chose to ignore my opinion or go read someone else's if they don't like what I have to say. There are more important things to get stressed about as to whether my opinion is still valid after a freebie.

But the sensible side of me will give you a proper answer - firstly; it's a bit rude of you to question as to whether my opinion can be bought for any amount of money. I'm an educated, sentient person with (I'd like to think) some intelligence, so please don't undermine me.

Secondly; I ensure I mark any restaurant/product that I have received for free much more harshly than those I pay for myself (which I make clear on my page regarding freebies).

And thirdly; I make it starkly clear on my blog that I will accept freebies and I always state in my article if the review is resultant of a freebie - there's nothing like a good old bit of transparency. Oh and I'll be pretty critical about it if it's shit, as I do like a good moan (I also mention that on my freebies page too).

Why do you accept freebies then?
I don't have an expenses account, an income stream related business plan that puts aside money to send myself to new openings, rich parents or deep pockets. Next month I won't even have this poorly-paid charity job (please send small violins and people to wail on my front step for me).

Don't you think it's morally wrong to accept a freebie?
No. If a restaurant/company wants to market their product through sending out an invite for me to dine at their expense, that's a good marketing plan. I would think it morally wrong for me not to mention that I received said meal for free or to mark them in the same way I would for a meal I paid for myself, where the kitchen had no idea they were being reviewed. Do printed publications make a point of telling you that all those products they review in their 'best of' pages have been sent in by PR companies or taken to the journalists by wide-eyed PR girls on press visits?

But doesn't that mean the content on your blog is controlled by public relations people?
No. This is a blog, ergo it's my opinion. I choose where to eat and the freebies I want to accept. I write, proof and edit every post I write - there is no sign off, content control, passing under the noses of or 'can you just change this for the client'. There are no paid for posts, advertorials or PR written posts - I don't even accept guest bloggers or host advertising. I write it, it gets published, it will be full of spelling mistakes and bad grammar and I don't care if some PR's client doesn't like it. I will not change or take down a post for anyone (bar taking some swear words out because they upset my Mum. Sorry Mum).

So you admit that your opinion is less valid than a newspaper critic?
Do critics openly tell you that the chef they are reviewing is their friend, or the guy opening the new Asian fusion place is an ex-school buddy? No. So, can we therefore argue that my opinion is now more valid because I am transparent and state which meals are free or if I know the owner?

Er, who actually cares? We all need to get over ourselves and realise there is more to life than arguing about the validity of an opinion. If you don't like my opinion, read someone else's blog/paper/magazine/writing on the toilet wall (but please carry on reading my blog because I need the attention).

So there's nothing wrong in asking for a free meal?
That's a different matter altogether. I personally don't ask somewhere to give me a meal for free, mainly because I lack the social interaction skills or confidence. I personally think it's a bit cheeky to go around blagging people; I wouldn't do it in any other aspect of my life, so I won't do it with my blog.

Should bloggers adhere to a code of conduct?
No. I believe bloggers should have manners and be transparent - but they're the basic ground rules that all publications (and every single person on this planet) should adhere to.

Blogging sprang up to give you, me and the man down the road a voice. Blogging is free speech and to regulate it would strangle or constrain what people are saying. You're going to read some blogs that are poorly written, some whose opinion you don't agree with and some that are down right offensive - but use your intelligence as a reader to work out who you like, who you agree with and who writes in a way that makes you want to eat their words off the computer screen.

We all need to remember that a blog and a restaurant review are just personal opinion. My taste bubs will no doubt be very different to yours and there are a multitude of variables which will mean my experience of a place differs wildly to yours.

And really - there are far more important things in the world to worry about than whether my (or anyone else's) opinion has been invalidated because someone gave me a free burger. Let's all stop taking ourselves too seriously and start talking about the things that really matter:

People who don't have access to the justice/freedom we have.
Young people without a home or future.
People who aren't safe in their own homes.
Those who have seen everything they hold dear destroyed.
Those who care for others.
Those making dreams come true for poorly children.
Supporting those who fight for our freedom.
Protecting the environment.
Getting creative to change the world.

Now go find your own causes. Use your voice to change the world, not bitch about those in it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I grew up in the late 80s/early 90s, when there was still lead in paints, we didn't have to wear seatbelts and parents could smack children. It's a surprise we've all made it this far.

Most things I grew up with have become outlawed (see above paragraph), outdated (mine and my brother's matching shell suits) or outlived (my rabbit). But some things are still, thankfully going strong.

One of my favourite memories is coming home from primary school, racing my brother up the stairs and getting the malt loaf out (for all of you millennials, that's what Soreen was called when I were a wee 'un) and cutting thick slices off, slathering them in butter and bunging it into the microwave for ten seconds. The result? Ultimate gooey goodness. And it was approved by mother for being vaguely healthy (liquorice was also vested this lofty status).

Over Christmas dinner it transpired that the both of us still continue this tradition (minus the racing each other up the stairs), only this time it is actually butter we spread, rather than the hydrogenated-oil rich margarine replacement everyone was so fond of back then. As I said, how did we survive to be this old?

It seems that the people over at Soreen HQ (did you know it's made in Manchester?) either did EXACTLY THE SAME THING WE DID AS KIDS, or just have a lateral thinking product development team who realised 'we need to make different kinds of Soreen, because in this day and age you need a million new products a day to survive as a brand...'. Anyways they've developed pre-sliced loaves, two different types to be exact - one that's toast shaped and one that's just a normal loaf sliced, so toaster lovers and microwaves lovers can both get into the hot Soreen action (sounds slightly wrong - ed).

These pre-sliced loaves are amazing, no more sticky fingers/squashed loaves for me. I'm still finding it hard to decide whether micro-ed Soreen (melty/squidgy) is better than toasted Soreen (slightly crispy on the outside, gooey in the middle). What I do know is that the Festive and the Cinnamon Raisin versions are divine (sadly unsliced), but then again I'd think cinnamon heavy vomit was pretty damn edible - basically, buy them if you like hot cross buns, Christmas and er, cinnamon.

And yep, I've just written a blog post about a processed, pre-packaged fruit and malt loaf, but guess what it's my blog and I'm sick of naval gazing about the mouth feel of frickin' burgers or the way a plate is drizzled with oil. Get over it.

Soreen - available from most corner shops, supermarkets and other grocery type purveyors; or in my lucky case, from my friend who works there.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Artisan - Manchester

I am unashamedly middle class. I'm not going to make excuses for my up-bringing, values and identity. I'm not going to pretend anymore, or make a mockery of where I fall in society - yes I worry about minor infringements of manners and I really like aspirational magazine; there's nothing wrong with being in the middle sometimes.

And that's why I like Artisan, the new-ish Spinnigfields offering from Living Ventures (Australaisa, Oast House, Alchemist). Artisan is not trying to be fine dining, it's not trying to be hipishly down-at-heel, it's not trying to push boundaries and it's not jumping on any bandwagon. It's just a comfortable, relaxed space, with great food and good drinks.

We visited mid-week and were pleasantly surprised that a) it was pretty busy for mid-week and b) that the vast, 12,000 ft space seemed really rather cosy. As with other Living Ventures concerns, there's been a conscious and very obvious effort to ensure the design encapsulates everything this space is about - comfort, cosiness, chatting with your friends, with a touch of something special to make you feel great being there.

As with all Living Ventures places, the staff have been expertly trained - we were met, welcomed and seated by genuinely friendly people and the staff knew most of the curve ball questions we threw at them (bar the whiskey question, but they were good enough to go and find out from the well-stocked bar).

The premise at Artisan is to relax and order food to share - we took advantage of this attitude and ordered a phalanx of nibbles and starters:
  • Olives; you can actually go wrong with olives, but Artisan have been clever enough to ensure they're bloody fresh and bunged a load of herbs on top.
  • Focaccia with dips; the bread was super fresh and straddled the just salty enough line with aplomb - the accompanying dips could have been a little more punchy, but we made up by dipping it in the camembert.
  • Baked camembert; melty cheese, what could be better? Artisan sprinkle said melty cheese with pine nuts and rosemary - simple, but inspired.
  • BBQ pork rib; a massive hunk of meat, soft and succulent in a pretty good BBQ sauce. The sauce could have been a bit more zingy, but was tasty enough for us to lick our fingers afterwards.
  • Wood baked sardines; out of the starters, this was the bum dish. The salsa
    that accompanied the fish had a great kick, but the sardines were dry and served on an over sized piece of wood. Now I understand Artisan's schtick is to cook stuff in the wood-fired oven, but the fish to wood ratio was ridiculous and we couldn't see how the wood had affected the taste of the fish.
  • Baked mussels - we thought these would be horribly chewy, having been in the oven, but this dish was amazing. Moules marinares steamed to perfection under a dough duvet - I'm not sure if you're meant to eat the crust, but it made a great plate to mouth transport devise for the sweetly, garlic rich sauce.
As we reached mains, we decided to save our waists a little and order only one dish apiece. The pulled pork burger was a solid, comforting dish with plenty of salty, soft meat. The salt baked sea bass was a star of a dish; perfectly steamed and seasoned in its salt crust, with the added theatre of it being hammered out of said crust by a member of the waiting staff, whilst we watched, goggled eyed.

Unfortunately my dish of pork tenderloin, let the side down. The dish itself was a great contrast of sweet and sharp tastes; apples and a mustard sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. However the pork itself was over cooked, dry and slightly chewy - a shame, as if it had been spot on, this may have been the winning dish of the evening.

We were stuffed, but salted caramel baked bananas was too much like yum for us to turn down, so we
managed to find space - glad we did, simple yet delicious, the gingerbread ice cream was a perfect match for the warm, gooey, savoury-ish bananas.

Artisan is a great space; the food is mostly excellent, the staff are brilliant and it's not too heavy on the pocket (unless you try and eat the whole menu, like us gluttons). For a simple, laid back and definitely better than middle-of-the-road meal, go visit.

Price for five starters, three mains, two sides, three puddings, two cocktails, three beers, a whisky and two glasses of pudding wine: £139.85

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yes, it's a great place to hang out with friends.

Artisan, Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ - - 0161 832 4181 - Twitter - Facebook

Please note, I was given this meal gratis, but as you can see from my varied review of the dishes, I wasn't under any obligation to say anything nice.
Artisan on Urbanspoon

Delonghi Motiva Coffee Maker

Christmas has come early in my household - those lovely people at Argos have decided to send me a coffee maker to try out (so this post's in conjunction with them). I'd like to think its due to my winning ways with words, but in all likelihood they've looked at my morning time twitter feed and seen I was a girl with a serious coffee problem.

My usual coffee ritual starts with bleary eyed me remembering I can't get coffee on the way to work or anything other than instant at the office (I'm not starting the instant/fresh coffee debate here. Let's just say I don't understand why anyone would drink instant). Then a mad dash to get a cafetiere on before I tear out the door, then come back in to pick up the cafetiere I've forgotten, then dash down to the train. Please don't think I take a full coffee set on the train or that I can run with a glass french press; I have a very useful, lockable, plastic travel cafetiere, which double as a thermos and drinking vessel (ooh, look at me being practical AND safe).

Until now, I've looked on coffee machines as one of those aspirational luxuries that I'd never allow myself as I'm too damn practical to let loose and live a little. So when the Delonghi arrived I felt naughty, but like I'd made it into one of those middle class homes magazines my Mother likes to buy.

This is the coffee machine for semi-idiots - it's not one of those types that you just put pods in and press a button, the Motiva takes both ESE espresso capsules and fine ground espresso coffee (which I have tons of - perks of having a Dad who lives part of the year in Italy) - but it couldn't be simpler to set up as it's basically already done, you just have to put the coffee in, add water and attach the arm thingy (that's a technical term, by the way). Oh and turn a knob.

The  Motiva has a removable, external water reservoir - simply ingenious as you don't have to take the machine to water or need to cart jugs across the kitchen to fill it up; just click it out and fill from the tap. The coffee is put in a little holder and then can you feel all proper barrista like as you tamp it down on the tamper attachment, twist said holder and arm into the machine, turn a knob and the espresso pours out, just like it does at any well known coffee chain.

Our first few attempts at making a coffee did result in some exploding mishaps - the only downside to the easy picture instructions is that they don't tell you how much coffee to put in the holder, or how hard to tamp it down. Three goes later though and we had it to a tee.

The Motiva makes excellent espresso, you get a lovely crema on top and the espresso is sweet and smooth. I tried a taste test with my Biretta mokka hob top (also Daddy/Italy present), using the same Lavazza Rossa espresso grounds. The Biretta produced a more watery, bitter result (and I'm a pro at using my mokka, so don't even question my makery ability), which needed a good spoon of sugar to bring out the chocolaty flavours of the coffee. However the Delonghi espresso needed no sugar and was much smoother.

The Delonghi makes espresso, pure and simple - however you can also use it to add hot water to your drink (Americano, anyone?) and there's a very capable milk frother attachment - so you can make all your favourite drinks off one small, compact and very neat machine. It's made of plastic, but it pretty sturdy - I've got super guns of steel/am exceedingly clumsy and it's bearing up eminently under these tough conditions.

All in all, the Delonghi's a simple, easy to use machine that's great for someone without much space. It'll take one morning of getting used to and then there's quick and tasty coffee on tap whenever you have that craving. Argos do other coffee machines too, but I'm going to stick with this one.