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!

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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).

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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.

Leeds’ best new restaurant

I’ve got a major tip off for you all and I’ve agonised for ages about whether to go public with this, as if I do then it probably means I’ll struggle to ever get a table again! I concluded that I’d be selfless and let you all know that I’ve found Leeds’ best new restaurant…

The Greedy Pig is an unassuming greasy spoon on North Street (near the Reliance and Hansas). By night it becomes the Swine that Dines. The Greedy Pig has been independently run by Scots Jo and Stu since 2011. They started to dabble in a monthly supperclub last year, which I attended the other week. They’ve taken the plunge to start the move away from bacon sandwiches and lunchtime fare to establish their Friday evening small plates club.

How it works – they open between 6pm and 9pm every Friday. There’s no bookings so you just turn up when you’re hungry. A giant blackboard displays the plates of the day. There are about 10 tapas sized plates to choose from, which includes desserts and bread from Leeds bread co-op. You order what you want, settle down with your BYOB, and await the tasty treats to arrive at your table!

Our menu

Our menu

We greedily ordered everything on the menu, except the bread and the tabbouleh salad, and shared it. Now I’ve had the pleasure of eating Stu’s food before so I was expecting good things. However the standard and quality of what was presented to us last night was out of this world. The plates were generously portioned, expertly presented, full of clean and clever flavours and all extremely exciting. Here’s a quick overview of each one:

A summer salad of crunchy green beans and radish was bound together with a deliciously creamy and piquant duck egg dressing and toasted sourdough bread. This was veg at its most exciting.

Swine beans

Salt hake came firm and fleshy atop a generous mountain of buttery potatoes and greens.

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The pork ribs were so meaty I failed to find the rib bones for the first few bites! They were perfectly cooked with crusty bits of marinated meat to chew down on. Sour tasting mushrooms seemed an odd accompaniment but extremely moreish and tasty.

A leek, walnut and feta croquette was an unexpectedly large rocket (roquette?!) of crispy outside and soft and tasty filling. This had a clever salad with sesame oil which really contrasted against the creamy filling.

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The kid faggot I nearly didn’t order as I’d had similar at the supperclub the other day. However I am glad I did – this was my favourite! A giant dumpling of smooth kid goat meat and offal (it was shoulder and heart last time I believe) came atop sweet and creamy carrot puree and oozing with a rich and meaty gravy. Not the best dish for a hot day but comforting and full of flavour – gimme more!

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Our final dish was the majestic porchetta. A beautifully coiled piece of pork was beautifully marinated and cooked to perfection, it truly was melt in the mouth. The flavours were so complex I needed to have them explained to me. Apparently the meat is given both a wet and dry rub in a myriad of herbs and spices that include sage, garlic, coriander and chilli. It was served with soft braised fennel and shavings of raw fennel to give different textural elements. This was another favourite dish.

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And so we took a pause here, absolutely astounded at how good the food was but yet in disbelief that the dining room was still so quiet. A steady stream did arrive and leave as we ate but there was room for more. In summary, you need to get yourself here, we cannot let this fantastic food go to waste! I really don’t think Jo and Stu appreciate how good they are, it’s the tastiest food I have eaten in a very long time.

As we enjoyed our wine I reflected a bit on the venue, which probably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very no nonsense, humble, honest venue. I personally love this as it means all focus and attention can be on the brilliant food. The informality is such a contrast to the fine dining style food, I love it! It truly is Leeds’ ultimate casual dining venue.

Desserts were not advertised on twitter so I was excited to see them added to the blackboard on arrival. We stuck to our trend and ordered both to share. A prune and Armagnac tart was bitter from chocolate ganache and sweet and sour from the prunes. It had a light and creamy ice cream and salted caramelised almonds for texture. Jo’s pastry was almost like a crumbly shortbread biscuit.

Swine tart

An elderflower posset was perfectly set and creamy. I couldn’t get much elderflower if I’m honest but the stem ginger shortbread biscuit was out of this world – buttery and crumbly. I loved spooning the posset onto the biscuit for a perfect combination.

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And so at this stage we declared ourselves full, having eaten nearly the entire menu! And now for the biggest shock of the entire night. Our bill came to less than £20 each. Now I know this doesn’t include booze, as we brought our own. But this meal was by far better than the one I’d enjoyed at Heston’s last week and was a fraction of the price. I love a bargain but the guys could easily charge more for the top quality food they serve. I’m guessing the low prices won’t be around forever, which is another reason to get yourself down there!

So I hope I’ve been able to convince you to get yourself down to North Street next Friday and every Friday after that. You won’t regret it. I just hope Jo and Stu save me a seat when everyone’s queuing out of the door! They don’t have a website yet so I recommend giving them a follow on Twitter – @SwineThatDines. You can thank me later!

Christmas Lunch at the Manor

Saturday 5th December 2015, 1pm to 4pm

Yes it may be July now and the hottest day of the year so far but we know how diaries can start to fill up in December, so we have decided to get in there early :) . This event will be a decadent Christmas lunch, using Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book, Nopi as our inspiration. We went to Nopi for lunch a couple of years ago and you can read our review here.

Tasty small plates, with a festive twist. £30pp will get you 8 small plates and a welcome drink! If you want to celebrate Christmas with us, then book on using the link below.

BOOK NOW