Hopheads of the world unite at Indy Man Beer Con

17 October 2013 | By neil in food & drink | No Comments Yet

THERE wasn’t a fashionista to be seen at the second Indy Man Beer Con. Not surprisingly.

While Vogue was swamping the city centre with a heady mix of catwalks and cocktails the distant Victoria Baths were awash with sheer hoppiness.

The opening session was sipping proof that craft beer is fashionable in its own right and the crowd – of all ages with substantial foodie and female contingents – was a far remove from the real ale stereotype.
For one thing, the beards were better trimmed.

IMBC, spawned by the folk at Port Street Beerhouse and The Beagle, was such a hit on its début last year that tickets for the four-day event (October 10-13) sold out with almost Glastonbury haste.
There may be some still left for Sunday.
Check at www.indymanbeercon.co.uk.

It’s easy just to swig the bewilderingly eclectic roster of ales, your stomach lined by Guerrilla Eats, but the thinking hophead was attending a seminar by Jeff Rosenmeier from Lovibonds Brewery on producing sour beers (intentionally) or checking out a panel involving guest brewers from Denmark and Italy.

We settled for a beer and food matching dinner hosted by 2011 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson. Hosting’s a bit strong. He outlined the four Japanese-influenced dishes we’d be getting but not the four beers. Pick was a pairing of the coriander-tinged wheat bee Red Willow Witless 4 with a a raw salmon dish with macadamia nuts and chillies in a soy-sesame lime sauce and a fascinating muscovado and date cheesecake with Brewdog Lumberjack. It’s a “breakfast stout” he helped create with the original maverick (and attention-seeking) brewers.

Oats and smoked malt in the mash tun, lashings of blueberries and maple syrup added to the kettle during the boil, followed by a dash of artisanal coffee. Oh, and some bacon. That’s what ethos behind IMBC is. Two pints of Stella, please, it ain’t. They have collaborated with several breweries to produce special beers for the event. Pick was Quantum of Stockport’s Imperial Treacle Stout.

Saturday’s highlight is an exclusive tasting of Boulevard Brewing Co’s beers by Jeremy Stull of Beermoth. They are from his home town of Kansas City. Tib Street-based Beermoth deservedly scooped best food and drink retailer in the 2013 Manchester Food And Drink Awards. A good week to be a hop head.

Thu 10 – Sun 13 Oct, Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road, Chorlton on Medlock M13 0FE. Prices from £6 – 11.50 per session. Ticket hotline: 07967 257504, http://www.indymanbeercon.co.uk.

Afternoon tea at The Langham and Art at The Hempel

01 May 2010 | By neil in food & drink, travel | No Comments Yet

(As previously published on the Manchester Confidential website)

Don’t get me wrong. Beefeaters have their place in modern society. I just don’t want to hang round the raven-haunted Tower of London in their company.

But the gin named in their honour, that’s another matter. Until the end of April (2010) the capital’s swanky Langham Hotel is doing a great bespoke take on afternoon tea, called Gin and Tea, which showcases the botanicals that go into traditional London spirit Beefeater 24 and matches them in an appropriate tea blend.

Since we were staying there, it seemed rude not to partake. Especially since the venue was the ‘birthplace of the afternoon tea tradition’ 140 years ago. The Palm Court was centrepiece of the legendary hotel’s £80m revamp.

bedroom at Langham Hotel

As we entered the dazzling, vaulted space, there was a slick jazz trio playing The Girl from Ipanema, so the mood was right.

Girls who do tea were very much in evidence. They had obviously been entrenched long before the skies started to darken, getting full value for what is not a cheap treat, especially when champagne is called for and the cosseting service has made you feel like you’re back in the womb.

entrance to the Langham Hotel

Our own Gin and Tea costs £39 a head, but what a spread. Crustless sandwiches, organic salmon with horseradish, Castle of Mey beef with Savora mustard, tuna, egg, cucumber, to be eaten with a crooked finger; fabulous scones with clotted cream thick as the earth’s crust and Duchy strawberry preserve; Sachertorte, Bakewell tart and all kinds of ‘fancies’; followed by a flotilla of cupcakes. All from a tiered stand, seconds offered for those careless of waistline.

It is de rigueur to kick off with a gin and tonic (or gin punch) with its essences of citrus, juniper and angelica and then move on to a brew blended from matching Chinese green and Japanese Sencha teas. That was perfect for us, though they did offer more traditional teas, if it failed to please. An English-grown tea from Tregothnan in Cornwall was an unusual but intriguing option.

We also dined at the hotel’s destination restaurant, The Landau, a much less playful space than the Palm Court and with a serious attention to detail in the food and a serious wine list. Its ambition is clear but it’s not yet up there with the best London can offer at the rarefied dining end.

The Langham, finished in 1865, was London’s first ‘grand’ hotel. Conan Doyle stayed there and featured it in several Sherlock Holmes stories. More recent guests have included Alicia Keys and Amy Winehouse.

Opposite BBC Broadcasting House at the top end of Regent Street, it is ideal for retail therapy and West End theatres. We took in the state of the nation play Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance at the Apollo Shaftesbury, which lived up to all the massive acclaim.

Another current must-see is the sold-out Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy, which the Langham has exclusive tickets for as part of a special package.

My fractured metatarsal meant I spent more time than normal in my large – even by such five-star standards – room. Here as in the public rooms there was a refined Oriental influence, particularly in art work and a beguiling blend of comfort and luxury.

The grand foyer of the Langham with its white marble pillars streaked with purple and Murano glass chandeliers is a quite different experience to arriving at The Hempel in Notting Hill, whose exterior defines discreet and interior a fashion victim’s wet dream.

Four poster bed

Designer Anouska Hempel’s name is still on the legendary lodging (she also designed the Blake’s hotels in London and Amsterdam), but she long ago severed connection with it.

We dropped in to see how the latest owners had altered the lay-out for their ‘New Spaces’ project without sacrificing the essential design concept from 1996.

Formal lawned garden

From the outside little has changed. Minutes away from Hyde Park, the conversion of five stucco-fronted Georgian houses sits in a tranquil square occupied by its own private garden. Very Zen paths and greenery with symmetrical slate pathed pools.

The Zen theme continues within. The harmony of Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire and Water supposedly created by a decorative palette of cream, honey, brown and slate – and materials such as Portland stone, Belgian limestone, birch wood and silk. Oh, and lots of scented candles.

Passing through an understated entrance can’t prepare you for the wash of natural light from the atrium/foyer and a front of house welcome worlds away from the drop-dead-aren’t-we-cool-in-our-Armani approach of some other hip hotels in the capital (Okay, let’s ‘name and shame’ The Metropolitan and The Sanderson).

afternoon tea

The corridors in truth are like being caught in a tall off-white hatbox, but the bedrooms are surprisingly warm and welcoming, the bathrooms not surprisingly ultra-luxurious. Much to my regret I didn’t make it into the legendary Lioness’ Den suite with its bed caged in chrome and suspended from the ceiling.

I did take in some teenage punks in the basement. They were the raw subject matter of documentary maker Niall O’Brien, whose photographic exhibition Good Rats (on until March 11) is the first in the new independent gallery Art Work Space.

This impressive exhibition and meeting space is part of the New Spaces Project.

This has involved shifting fine dining from basement to the ground floor, where chef Simon Aquilina brings his Michelin-honed skills to bear at the No 35 Restaurant. Expect the likes of venison with coffee polenta and cherry parfait with five spice in chic and toned down minimalist surroundings.

If No 35’s booked up, Notting Hill/Bayswater is fertile dining out territory. My suitably chic companion Zoe and I had supper five minutes away in the unlikely surroundings of Whiteley’s Shopping Centre in Porchester Gardens.

Cafe des Anglais

Here Rowley Leigh’s Cafe des Anglais pays playful homage to the seminal Parisian brasserie of that title (namechecked in foodie film Babette’s Feat). Art Deco flourishes and an open-plan rotisserie/kitchen serving fabulous Anglo-French food, but the overall impression is of waiting for Hercule Poirot to join you at the Captain’s table on some thirties Transatlantic liner.

We tore ourselves away and returned to The Hempel to sample the third ‘New Space’ completing the holy trinity of art and food with cocktails.

Candles and a glowing fireplace put a mellow sheen on the minimalist core of No 31 Lounge Bar. Time to compare gins at two very different London hotel masterpieces…

Langham Hotel, 1c Portland Place, Regent Street, London GB W1B 1JA 020 7636 1000, www.london.langhamhotels.co.uk

It has 380 rooms.

Grand executive room: £295.

Suites: from £515 (for a junior suite)

Hempel Hotel, 31-35 Craven Hill Gardens, London W2 3EA 020 7298 9000, www.thehempel.co.uk

50 rooms, suites and apartments. Superior room: £179. Lioness’ Den and Beluga Suite: £599. All plus VAT. For details of the Art Work Space gallery visit www.artworkspace.co.uk

Neil Sowerby travelled with Virgin Trains, who run up to 50 trains a day between Manchester and London. For details of services and fares, including special promotions, visit www.virgintrains.co.uk

For timetable information ring National Rail Enquiries 08457 48 49 50.

There’s much to savour at Thomas

01 May 2010 | By neil in food & drink | No Comments Yet

(As previously published on the Taste of Manchester website)

Thomas's restaurant Manchester interiorThomas and not a mutton chop or a waistcoat in sight. It doesn’t seem right.

Indeed, it’s momentarily disconcerting to find the Northern Quarter namesake of the Cross Street chophouse shorn of Victorian clutter.

The absence of the deferential Mr says it all. This place is not going to be offering artery-hardening fare to gents in pinstripes or packing in ale-seeking heritage tourists out for a night on the cracked tiles. It’s casual drinking and dining for the suitless set.

Co-owners Rybka-Goldsmith, Goldsmith-Rybka and Astill may sound like a firm of solicitors but Nicky, Yvonne and Paul have been round the NQ block (indeed it seems sometimes they run most of the block) and they know their audience. The blank grey and glass frontage with no sign above and only a hint of Thomas’s branding etched on the window, is unremittingly cool. Like NoHo Bar over in Stevenson Square, if it trumpets its industrial chic then the trumpet is courtesy of Miles Davis on minimalist mute.

In truth, it’s rather easy just to walk straight past and be tempted by tea at Teacup (definitely what it says on the label, alas!) or Ginger Beer at the new Marble. Yet Thomas’s, by its name, aims to be the epicentre of the Thomas Street drag, providing quality casual dining in competition with the long-established Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar.

Architecturally it’s bold, but you have to venture inside to discover that. A lot’s been spent. Perhaps the increasingly shabby state of Nicky and Yvonne’s original boho venture a few doors away, the Bay Horse, was due to them saving up their pennies for this. Business partner Paul Astill (Cord around the corner is another shared venture) designed the space. He’s nothing if not eclectic. Apotheca, also incestuously along the road, shows one facet of his talents, the blingy dungeon that is the Inner Circle on Deansgate another, while the Horse and Jockey down in Chorlton is a delightfully different renovation.

At Thomas he has taken a three-storey former rag-trade premises, taken out the middle floor and inserted a soaring glass extra frontage behind the existing one. As a self-confessed claustrophobe, I loved its clean lines. I prefer downstairs, with its well-spaced tables, to upstairs but since the sun was cracking the Thomas Street flags outside we took a (sheltered) table in the space between frontages.

Like Bay Horse and Cord its beer range is unambitious. Odd (changing cask) or Walrus (with its eclectic bottles) are a better bet. But Thomas’s wine list has its treats, particularly the Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay (£23.50 a bottle, £7.90 a glass). If that sounds a bit steep for a glass, note that all glasses come as large (250ml), which is bad news for unit watchers. I wasn’t watching my units. The first sun for a while filtering through a goldfish bowl of creamy Chilean white was a true welcome to the wild ferment of spring. The Wild Ferment of the wine title refers to the natural wild yeasts used in its production before some judicious French oak ageing.

Its smoky intensity and pineapple notes rather overwhelmed slightly bland smoked haddock and salmon fishcakes (£5.50) when I first dropped in on the restaurant. Ham hock terrine (25p cheaper) had been off then, but on this re-visit matched surprisingly well with the big chardonnay despite the sweet-sour acidity of fresh piccalilli and beetroot. At the team’s previous venture Soup Kitchen (NQ canteen with Saturday night candle-lit blow-outs), chef Gareth Phillips’ cheffing pedigree, from working under Simon Rimmer and Michelin-starred Atul Kutcher, often seemed to be going to waste. Now it’s time to up his game.

The fibrously fabulous ham hock terrine shows his deft touch with pork products but my melting main of Crisp Belly of Pork (£9.95) surpassed it. Wonderful crackling, sharp mustard sauce on parsnip mash were accompanied neatly by the sweet fruit of Banda Azul rioja (£5.90), recommended by a front of house fellow who prefers to be known as Spanish (honest, perhaps he has shares in the vineyard). On the first visit service was, at the kindest, dreamy. This time, under the Spanish Inquisition, staff were alert and engaged.

Halibut is a fish that’s so easy to cook dry. For £13.50 chef Phillips gets it just juicy while partnering it with clams and, a slightly unassertive sauce aside, it works well. Another fish dish, the pan-fried mackerel starter (£4.95), was less successful, a touch overcooked and hard, avocado cream and coriander salsa doing nothing for it. The pudding range sticks to simplicity; a selection of Cheshire Farm Dairy Ice Creams, vanilla creme brulee, chocolate brownie, a cheesecake of the day – all under a fiver – or a board of three local cheeses. I chose the creme brulee and wasn’t disappointed; the cheesecake of the day, Grand Marnier, was a shy little dish, in contrast.

Thomas, then? Casual dining, yes. Sloppy dining, no. As yet not wildly ambitious, and the drinking market is obviously important, but the food is already good enough to make this a foodie destination. Which must be a good thing for the NQ in its ongoing struggle to avoid being the Deansgate Lock of the Noughties.

Thomas Restaurant and Bar
49-51 Thomas Street
M4 1NA
0161 839 7033

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