October Menu – 4th Birthday, Nanban & Beer

Now that our summer of travels are over, we’ re ready and raring to go and already prepping for our 4th birthday celebrations! Never did we think we would still be holding events, but if the people of Leeds want, we’ll still give!

To celebrate, we’ll be putting on a Japanese street food feast, serving up a number of small plates using Tim Anderson’s Nanban as our inspiration, paired with four cans of Beavertown Brewery’s finest.

Tasty grub and beer all served up in the wonderful surroundings of the Manor. What’s not to like? We’d love to know what you think!

October_2015 Menu

Poppyseed Pop-Up!

We ventured South this weekend to Sheffield to try out an exciting new supperclub run by Marie from Poppyseed dining. We met Marie and her husband Steve at the Swine that Dines at the start of the summer and were instantly charmed by their passion and interest in food, which meant their supperclub could be nothing more than excellent! Marie has a Bavarian background and upbringing and this is food that I don’t have a lot of experience of and so the thought of lots of warming Alpine treats was exciting, especially in the run up to Autumn!

Poppyseed itself is a small affair with just six guests around the table, but given that Marie does all the sourcing and cooking herself I don’t blame her at all for this. This month’s menu was based around the food they had experienced on their recent holiday in the Italian Gran Paradiso national park. This is right on the Alpine cusp between France and Italy and is not a place I am familiar with but which I’ll certainly look into now. This was Italian food but not as you know it!

On arrival at Marie and Steve’s school conversion home we were greeted with delicious glasses of berry spritz which was homemade berry liqueur topped up with prosecco. This was very light and refreshing. Our canapés included mini puff pastry tarts topped with succulent and salty pork rillettes, which were an absolute porky dream! Also on offer were mini puffs with Marie’s homemade ricotta! I’ve tried to make ricotta before but it doesn’t work with homogenised supermarket milk so Marie must have gone to some effort to source raw milk straight from the farm. Finally we were treated to warm grissini with a salty and herby yoghurt butter with basil.

Poppyseed canapes

Our fellow guests were very lovely to chat to and had been to Poppyseed before so they were able to explain what the rest of the meal was likely to be like. Our first starter was a lovely little salad of braised figs, hazelnut and lardo brought back from Italy. This was a light and lovely introduction to the flavours of Alpine Italy. The ingredients were simple yet well sourced.

Poppyseed salad

Next up was an intriguing suepa, a new dish to me! This was a cross between a baked bread pudding and a soup, if that makes sense?! Layers of homemade rye bread and fontina cheese were baked in lashings of beef broth. The broth was light and clear and could have been served as a consommé. This was warming and comforting yet over so rich!

Poppyseed starter

For our main course Marie had cured a lovely piece of beef from Whirlow Farm. This was then slow cooked with red wine and mushrooms and served up with soft polenta and caramelised onions. This dish was a bit more familiar to us. The clever curing of the meat meant it fell apart easily yet was firm at the same time. The sauce was thick and rich and almost sharp from the red wine, helping it to cut through everything. We enjoyed leftovers poured all over rye bread, mmmm! There’s no picture for this as we all dived in and devoured it before it was too late!

After a small break our dessert was a cogne cream which is essentially a rum and chocolate set custard. This was probably my least favourite course as I could have done with a chocolate that was a bit more bitter and a cream that was a bit more alcoholic, as after all the strong flavours of the night this got a bit lost. The star of the dish, however, was a scoop of refreshing pear sorbet on top. I think the pear is often forgotten about so it was good to see it here.

Poppyseed dessert

If you dine at Poppyseed do try their coffee. Marie sources unique single bean coffees from a guy in Sheffield who scours the likes of Madagascar and Tanzania for the best coffee plantations. It is some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted from a cafetiere. Petit four were homemade fruit pastilles that were flavoured with elderberry! These were deep and plummy. The final flourish was a little spoon of honey caramel which was a very light and tasty nougat.

Poppyseed caramels

Marie’s passion for sourcing good quality ingredients is very strong and influences her supperclub throughout every single course, from the main event to the little touches such as the canapés and the coffee. This makes it extremely exciting and enjoyable to dine at because you know her heart and soul has been put into absolutely everything. How she can make any money with using such top notch fare is not clear!

For us, Sheffield was not the easiest place to get to and from on a Saturday night without a car, but if you don’t mind driving or can convince someone else to then I do urge that you give Poppyseed a go. You won’t be disappointed by the beautiful ingredients and the warm and friendly hosts!

A Bon Evening at the Manor!

Last weekend we invited 11 guests round our table to indulge in a bit of French frivolity at the Manor. We’re off to France shortly and what better way to get ourselves pepped and ready to go than with a delicious eight course menu celebrating all things French. Using Rick Stein’s French Odyssey as our guide (which is twenty years old this year!) we served up a delightful array of dishes.

Our cocktail was le diner au manoir, an unusual concoction of orange, gin, pernod and sparkling water with a dash of grenadine for colour and sweetness. We served this from our retro punch bowl.

This delicious aperitif was paired with three canapés. Firstly little puff pasty parcels filled with roasted butternut squash, thyme and goats cheese, an adaptation of a pumpkin soup recipe from the book.

This was swiftly followed by little crunchy croutes topped with tapenade and a baked mushroom. The earthy mushroom paired surprisingly well with the salty, umami flavours of the tapenade. The third canapé were flash fried queenie scallops served up with a delicious tomato and herbes de Provence dressing.

After canapés came the amuse bouche, little cups of vichyssoise, or cold leek and potato soup to you and I! This is a decadent creamy and smooth soup with the unmistakable savoury notes of leek and white pepper. These came topped with fun little garlic chives.

Next up was the starter which was Dan’s take on a bouillabaisse, a French fish stew. Dan’s summery version came spiked with the flavours of orange, anise, tomato and pepper. The fish, fresh from Leeds market, was squid and crab. The squid is cooked long and slow to make it mouth-wateringly soft. Just before serving a rouille – which is a spiced garlic mayonnaise – was stirred through to add even more depth of flavour. These came served with a little baguette crouton and a further smear of rouille.

After a bit of respite of our guests, the main course was served. This was bavette steak (beef skirt from the brilliant Keelham Farm shop) cooked pink, accompanied with a rich, glossy Bordelaise sauce and a shallot and parsley “salsa” to cut through the richness. This was paired with pommes coq d’or – sliced baked potatoes in stock and a Cheesemaker’s salad, which doesn’t actually contain any cheese! Tender leaves and pink pickled shallots tossed in a tart mustard dressing. Again, this did a great job of cutting through the richer elements of the dish.

To cleanse the palate, next up was little scoops of Normany cider sorbet. This was fresh green apples pulped in the juicer and strained before being added to a sweet cider syrup and churned to make a bright green and refreshing sorbet that had the unmistakable taste of tangy apple and cider!

Our final flourish was Dan’s Trois Petit Desserts, which actually turned out to be four! Dan put his patisserie skills to the test making nearly every single dessert in Rick’s book! First up was a caramel mousse, which is a light and airy mousse flavoured with buttery salted caramel. This came topped with fresh strawberries and crunchy almond brittle. It wouldn’t be a French meal without some form of crème brulee, and this time it came in the form of a passionfruit brulee. Passionfruit puree was mixed into the custard before being baked to produce a subtly flavoured creamy delight. Interestingly Rick uses icing sugar for his burnt top, and it works a treat! You have to work quickly before the sugar dissolves but it melts easily and cracks up a treat. It did mean we had to get out Dan’s scary, industrial sized blowtorch, which had us all running to protect our eyebrows! The brulee came paired with a passionfruit shell filled with passionfruit jelly. This was a really cute addition to the plate as it looked just like a passionfruit and was really effective and pretty. Finally to ensure there was some pastry to munch on Dan concocted a mini pear tart. Crisp puff pastry was filled with poached pear and topped with a red wine glaze, chopped pistachios and a dollop of crème fraiche.

Finally, our petit fours for the evening were little honey and lemon madeleines, light and fluffy, but may have tipped some of our guests over the edge!

To sum up, this was a very enjoyable event, as usual our guests were a lovely bunch who were well up for tucking into the huge amount of food we threw their way! Rick Stein’s book is a classic, with all of the dishes flavoursome and relatively simple to make using very simple ingredients. Vive la France!

We’re taking a bit of a break in September, but we’ll be ready and raring to go in October for our 4th birthday (gulp!) event – Japanese soul food paired with delicious Beavertown Beer!

Midsummer House – Review

I grew up in Cambridge and so have always known of Midsummer House. But it was one of those places I never expected to go to, and was a bit intimidated by. It was the kind of place corporate business men took clients to show off a bit, not the place for locals to go for a meal, not even for a special occasion.

However 15-20 years on and Midsummer House has become far more accessible with Daniel Clifford at the helm as chef patron and a string of successful appearances on the Great British Menu. It was one of these Great British Menu appearances that got my attention and made me think, yes that food looks fun, I want to eat there! Plus it has managed to retain its 2 Michelin stars for the last ten years.

Midsummer House

As the name suggests, Midsummer House is a house and it’s based on Cambridge’s midsummer common. Cambridge is a funny old city with a number of protected commons, which are basically large areas of grazing land for wild cattle, which have the effect of making you feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside and not in the middle of a city. Midsummer House is located with the river Cam on one side and the common on the other. This sedate positioning means that cars cannot access the restaurant and in fact our taxi had to leave us at the edge of a footbridge to continue our journey by foot, which was quite nice and romantic.

The restaurant itself is surprisingly small, extended through the use of a conservatory and garden. As it was a lovely day the conservatory doors and windows were flung open giving us a feel of siting out in the garden. Our first canapés were delivered whilst we waited to see what would happen next. Little choux buns were filled with a truffle cream and looked just like mini chocolate éclairs!

Midsummer canapes

We started the meal with a glass of champagne which was brought to our table aboard a slightly pompous champagne trolley. This mechanical trolley magically presented the champagne from the depths of its cupboards, which was fun but a bit cheesy. The champagnes, however, were all dry and crisp and extremely refreshing. More canapés appeared including mini turnips in a pepper soil and smoked fish pate and a duck pate on a crumbly biscuit and encased in a pleasingly sharp redcurrant gel. Both were beautiful and full of flavour.

Midsummer canapes 2

Midsummer canpes 3

The menu is split into 7 courses or 10 courses depending how greedy you are. I was with my family who are not always big eaters and so I had to heartbreakingly agree to the 7 courses. This was tough as the courses we were giving up included the suckling pig and turbot with clams and squid ink pasta – devastating!

First up was a crab and pea dish, presented in a hovering little round bottomed dish. Full of crisp, green pea flavour and sweet, comforting crab this was a celebration of the British summer at its best. I was astounded by the superb flavours that had been captured in such a simple looking dish, and this was to start a theme for the rest of the meal.

Midsummer pea and crab

I had spied a little BBQ as soon as we had sat down and for our next course this was brought over to us by the head waiter on another little trolley. Inside the BBQ dome were a number of charred and wrinkly beetroot. These were sliced up with as much pomp and ceremony as could be mustered! The tender flesh was scooped out and added to our next dish of beetroot, goat cheese and quinoa. Beetroot is probably my least favourite vegetable but even I could appreciate its soft juiciness. The goats cheese was fresh out of Heston’s lab, frozen within an inch of its life in dry ice and steaming away on our plates!

Midsummer Beetroot

Midsummer beetroot 2

Next up was my favourite course – quail three ways! A beautifully rare and succulent quail breast was paired up with a sourdough toast finger spread with quail pate and a little deep fried quail egg. The meat was melt in the mouth, the pate umami at its best and the egg smoky beyond belief and full of skill, yum!

Midsummer quail

Midsummer quail 2

Our fish dish was probably the biggest scallop I have ever seen! Big, juicy and well caramelised. This came beautifully presented with granny smith batons and celeriac puree. Lovely little truffles were also brought along and liberally grated all over the scallop. What I noticed about this tasting meal was that every course was given its own importance, there was no dud dish and actually the sizes were all very generous

Midsummer scallop

Finally for the savouries was perfectly pink Cumbrian lamb. For me this was probably the least exciting course but this is mainly because it had such a tough act to follow after the high standard that had preceded it.

Midsummer lamb

Our first dessert was poached kumquat with tamarind sorbet. This did have the effect of cleansing our palettes and caused all manner of yum noises round the table. I felt there was a little bit too much kumquat for the size of the dish, to the point where it felt like I was eating a bowl of marmalade, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Midsummer kumquat

Our final dessert was a celebration of strawberry – who knew a simple strawberry was harbouring so much flavour! This included a little macerated strawberry, a ravioli coated in strawberry gel and a little cigar of strawberry. This was light, fruity and summery – just what we needed after a fairly rich meal!

Midsummer Strawberry

Coffees were not obligatory to enjoy the petit four. These were light little diamond doughnuts with caramel and calvados dipping sauces. The sauces were so good I was eating the leftovers with a spoon!

Midsummer petit four

And so that brought a very enjoyable meal to a close. Everybody agreed that they had been pleasantly surprised by the standard of flavours and the fact that we had been served generous courses and were perfectly full. Had I been offered the additional turbot and pork I’m not sure I could have fitted these in, so maybe 7 was the magic number?!

If I had any criticisms, and these are minor, it’s the toilet set up. For a medium sized restaurant (there’s at least 20 covers downstairs and a private dining room upstairs) there is only one male toilet and one female toilet, which is just not enough. I dashed to the loo just as the scallop was coming out and then had to queue, delaying the dish even further which I’m sure stressed the kitchen out. Also, whilst we were sat right next to a lovely open door that looked out on to the common, we were also right by the drains. So every now and then a lovely whiff of sewage greeted us. This wasn’t enough to cause us to ask to be moved but it does indicate that the restaurant’s toilet infrastructure is not quite right.

I was very impressed with the staff who were all very professional but also friendly and jolly at the same time, making the meal feel special. As we went to leave we were given a parting gift of a little box of chocolates. The chocolate work was obviously the hand of an expert as they were so thin. The insides were, again, superb flavours of pistachio and passionfruit. So if you want a meal where you’ll be thinking of and talking about the flavours long after then do try out Midsummer House – just avoid the private dining room (it looked soulless to me) and don’t sit too near the drains if the doors are open!

August Menu – French Odyssey

It seems like as age since our last event, nearly two months in fact! We’re fully recharged and rested from one European trip to Spain, and this event is in homage to our next one, en France!

Using the wonderful Rick Stein’s French Odyssey as our guide, we’ll be taking you on a journey across France, cooking up traditional dishes bursting with flavour.

We think this menu c’est magnifique and we hope our guests and blog readers think so too!

August 2015

Spaces Available for August’s French Supperclub!

Due to a cancellation some last minute spaces have become available for our French Odyssey event on Saturday 15th August (7pm-11pm). There are 3 spaces available at a cost of £35pp which gets you the full Manor feast and a welcome cocktail. The menu is just being finalised now and will contain lots of classic French meat and fish dishes, so would suit diners who do not have aversions to these ingredients!

A fellow supperclubber is selling these spaces on as they are unable to attend. If you’d like to grab them quick then email ally@digital-diva.co.uk

Basque Beauty

I was originally booked into Arzak, in San Sebastian, over two years ago. But having lost my passport I had to forego this trip until a new passport was in place. As a result me and this restaurant had some unfinished business! Before I launch into the Arzak critique, I will simply say this – if you love food and drink then you need to get yourself to San Sebastian. A pretty, sedate little town with about 10 restaurants and bars per resident here! Need I say more, it is a foodie paradise! Also a very mild micro climate means that it’s not overly hot in summer and never freezes at winter. Combine that with humidity and you have the perfect conditions for growing beautiful produce, all year round!


I was initially intrigued by Arzak when it appeared on Masterchef UK back in 2009 (the year Mat Follas won). Run by an enigmatic father and daughter chef combo the colourful and wacky looking food had me hooked! As well as three Michelin stars it’s also been in the top 10 of the best restaurants in the world for the past decade or so, although it’s slipped out this year, replaced by San Sebastian’s Murgaritz (which is next on my list).


Nestled in a residential suburb of San Sebastian (technically a different village in the old days) – to say our journey to Arzak was epic is a slight understatement. A lot of walking and an overground train later and we arrived slightly sweaty and pink faced to be greeted by our calm and professional waiting staff. When I come on to the food you’ll see that I found it hard to differentiate what 3-star Arzak is doing compared to 1 and 2-star eateries I’ve been to. However if anything gets them the third star then it’s the staff. Warm, friendly, professional and always in control.

We went for the tasting menu as that seemed to be the best value for money way of eating, plus there was still an element of choice within this menu. I started will a cool, crisp Fino sherry which was served in a nice, large portion. Our snacks, as ever, were the treats which highlighted the most innovation from the kitchen, and created opportunity for the chef to show off. They included beer marinated mango, served in the bottom of beer can and scooped out with the world’s longest spoon; a little bottle of gazpacho with a ‘cork’ of melon and ham; and a bright red prawn wanton that was crunchy and sweet. What was evident from this course was Arzak’s style of playing with colour and subtly confusing the brain about what you are actually about to eat.

Arzac gazpacho

Arzac mango

The first starter was foie gras – this is fairly popular in San Sebastian given that it’s part of the Basque Country. This was a play on a popular pinxtos dish that we’d had earlier in the day but much more refined. The pate was smooth and rich and came with sweet apple and crispy potato.

Arzac fois gras

For the fish course we had a choice of mackerel or lobster. I, of course, went for lobster. When an ipad was placed before me I was very confused! It had images of the sea playing. The beautifully presented lobster dish was then put down on top of it on a glass tile. This was a fun way of serving and the sea scene quickly turned to a roaring fire when I had finished the lobster! The fish itself was served with sour ‘acidic’ flavours to cut through the sweet flesh. I thought you got a lot of lobster for a tasting menu which was pleasing.

Arzac lobster

The next interlude was a wacky ‘space egg’ which was a slow cooked egg surrounded by dots of brightly coloured sauces. For me, this was more style over substance but it was fun nonetheless and a bit of a two fingers up to very formal dining restaurants, who probably wouldn’t serve something so zany!

Arzac egg

The last fish course was seared tuna belly with a purple corn sauce. This was stunningly beautiful on the plate and almost a shame to eat. I was expecting a miso style sauce, which would have made this dish perfect. However, as with a lot of Basque cooking, the sauces are all quite sour which can take a bit of getting used to.

Arzac tuna

The meat dish had a number of options – lamb, pigeon, beef or anything else we cared to dictate to the kitchen! I went for the beef as it was charcoal cooked and I had seen the charcoal oven in the front yard on my arrival. This was a healthy chunk of beef cooked very rare but lovely and soft. It was speared with a ‘bone’ of liquorice root that I enjoyed chewing down on and sucking. The hop sauce that the beef came with was a little watery, however when green tea dust was grated over it an intriguing smoke was created. All very visually stunning!

Arzac beef

Desserts were fun and actually left us not knowing what to expect at all. First up was a chocolate course. This included a giant chocolate truffle that had a chocolate sauce poured on it to dramatically melt away the outside. This wasn’t the prettiest of dishes however the richness of the chocolate was perfectly naughty. Also brought out was ‘square moon’ – a cube of chocolate filled with fruity sauce and a passionfruit pouring sauce. We thought that was it until yet more cutlery was put down! This time the offerings were even weirder! A chocolate shell was made to look like a black lemon, which is a tiny little dried lemon, and filled with citrus cream. Finally there were little ring donuts which were actually carob shells filled with an anise cream. The style of the restaurant seems to be to create hard shelled desserts that break open to reveal soft interiors – it got a little bit samey by dessert four, but fun nonetheless.

A picture of San Sebastian as my dessert pictures were particularly crap

A picture of San Sebastian as my dessert pictures were particularly crap

And so that was it! Interestingly our waiter came to ask if we were full enough or whether we wanted more. I was actually perfectly full, without being nauseous as one can sometimes be after a tasting menu. However the Britishness in me immediately said that I was full and it would have been interesting to know what would have happened had I required more food – what on earth would have come out?! We did have the obligatory coffee and petit four. These came in a pretty little bird cage. Although disappointingly these were yet more hard shells/ liquid centres, as experienced in the desserts. The mousse filled chocolate was very moreish though.

Arzac petit four

Spanish restaurants don’t do tap water and so we had bottles of still. These were very reasonably priced however, so not really an annoyance. Wine-wise we opted for a light local red which came in the form of a 2012 Rioja Crianza – Predicador to be precise. This was perfect for the majority of our courses. Bizarrely it seemed to be the magic porridge pot of the wine world as it lasted for the whole 3 hours of our meal!

This is probably the third most expensive meal I’ve ever had, after Noma and L’Enclume. If I’m honest then I think the food at Noma and L’Enclume is superior to Arzak – in terms of innovation, taste and presentation. Perhaps this is why Arzak has slipped out of the top ten of late? However the service at Arzak was second to none and I’d go back again just for that. What’s more, on the way out our head waiter was disappointed to hear we’d not met the chef and swiftly brought out Elena Arzak to meet us. We discussed Masterchef and then she walked us out to our taxi, which was all rather lovely! Personally I’d hate to be featured in the world’s top 50 restaurants as it opens you up to a world of scrutiny, critique and expectation. When you’re a little provincial taverna you probably just want to get on and make good food without the world watching.