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Saturday, 16 April 2016

New Spring Menu at Gusto Didsbury: Salmon, Lamb and a LOT of Avocado

Bearing in mind that some parts of the country have had snow this morning, it's perhaps a little difficult to believe that Spring has sprung in Britain. Still, sprung it has, and I know this for two reasons. Firstly, I am now awakened by actual daylight at 6am every morning, and secondly, the new Spring menu has launched at Gusto.

Gusto Didsbury is one of my favourite haunts. It's part of a chain but doesn't feel like it; it has a great atmosphere and lovely cosy leather booths where no-one can see if you get arrabiata down your top; the staff are lovely; it's possible to dine well there for not much money; there's a very decent, mostly Italian wine list; and it's ten minutes' walk from my house (a walk that I am always glad of afterwards, although technically more of a roll than a walk on the return journey). I also like that they change their menu every Spring and Autumn - it means regular visitors like me get to try new stuff, and also reflects their interest in seasonal eating (although to commit to this fully would require more frequent changes than twice-yearly, of course).

The new menu has some interesting-sounding new dishes; so many, in fact, that we are forced to eat olives and some rosemary focaccia bread whilst we are choosing. I want it all, although truth be told the options are more limited for my dairy-free, pescatarian plus-one (although his moment in the sun will come later, with the dessert menu). In the end I go for the asparagus spears with dolcelatte mayonnaise and roasted red peppers - a simple dish, well-executed. The dolcelatte mayonnaise is a thing of great joy and the asparagus spears are fresh and fat (although for £6.25 I think three of them is on the low side). My friend has the cold smoked salmon with spiced avocado, red pepper purée and capers and although it looks absolutely stunning, in practice it is a bit of a misfire - the star of the dish should be the salmon (which is, indeed, lovely) but it finds itself a bit overwhelmed by the other elements. The spiced avocado turns out to be a purée which would work well on its own as a dip or on toast, but here makes the dish a little wet, and the capers add too much salt to a dish that is already well-seasoned. It wouldn't take much tweaking to make this a great dish - more texture to the avocado and one or two less complicating elements perhaps.

For main, I have the roast lamb rump with truffled cheese piccolo ravioli and tomato sauce. I enjoy this very much - two generous slabs of perfectly pink and tender lamb surrounded by a whole army of exquisitely tiny ravioli that are probably my favourite component of the whole meal. I have misordered on the sides, as I have gone for my usuals of fries, Italian fried courgettes and, on the waitress' recommendation, the new polenta chips (these are to share by the way - not even I'm that greedy). Each of these, individually, is perfection, but the lamb dish would have benefited from a green vegetable and the salty sides end up making the overall dish a little over-seasoned. The picky friend is more of a problem though - there are some wonderful-sounding fish dishes on the menu but they contain reams of butter, so he ends up going for the pan fried salmon fillet with tomato and avocado salsa and spiced crumb, fully aware that he is essentially ordering salmon and avocado followed by salmon and avocado. Still, he is a little surprised when the "avocado salsa" turns out not to be a fresh, perky chopped salad but instead is more of the purée from his starter dish. This is a shame, as again we are close to the perfect dish here: it's a lovely piece of beautifully-cooked salmon and the crumb adds both flavour and texture, but as before, the purée is too wet and too salty - the advertised salsa would have worked far better.

Still, as someone with a dairy intolerance, he has become used to not even glancing at the dessert menu, much as he would like to. The manager has, however, already told him of the almond milk panna cotta with honeycomb, flaked almonds and lemon curd - he has been looking forward to it all evening and it doesn't disappoint; in fact, it exceeds expectations. I don't actually get to try any of it as it disappears down the hatch too quickly, but the idea makes sense to me - the natural sweetness that makes almond milk undesirable (in my opinion) in tea is surely perfect for this kind of dessert. To keep him company I have one of my all-time favourite things, the bombolini - homemade mini doughnuts with orange chantilly and chocolate sauce. Gusto is one of the few places I ever have a dessert, and they are as good (and calorifically unjustified) as ever.

A trip to Gusto Didsbury is always a pleasure, and this was no exception, despite a couple of issues with the meal. Avocado and salt are two of my very favourite things and I never thought I'd find myself writing negatively about them; still, we'll order more wisely next time we go. Gusto are clearly mindful of catering for people with allergies, and the arrival of the almond milk panna cotta suggests that more dairy-free dishes might appear on the menu alongside the excellent range of gluten-free options they currently offer. Or, next time I could just go with someone less picky...

- Gusto Didsbury is at 756 Wilmslow Rd, Didsbury M20 2DW. They have also recently started offering brunch at the weekends and it is very good, as witnessed by the photos below from a recent visit.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Botanical Syrups from Discover the Wild: Foraging Made Easy

As I have previously confessed, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an outdoorsy person (unless you count the occasional spot of gentle beer gardening); even less so during times of inclement weather. No-one was more surprised than I, then, to find myself foraging near Rochdale in torrential rain back in September 2014 - if gin had not been involved, then I count it highly unlikely that I would have bestirred myself for such an event. Thing is, though, I really enjoyed it, and have stayed in touch with our genial foraging guide, Dave from Discover the Wild, ever since, full of well-meaning intentions about booking onto one of his other events.

I still hold these well-meaning intentions but have hit upon an altogether more satisfying sort of arrangement: I stay warm and dry at home, and Dave pops round with some stuff he has already foraged on my behalf, and made into a range of enticingly-flavoured syrups. There are currently eight in total (some of which are still prototypes), made from all natural ingredients which Dave has foraged locally (blackcurrant leaf and nettle, rose, linden blossom, dandelion and burdock, spearmint), found in his garden (lavender, lemon verbena) or got a mate to source the plants for him (hibiscus); they are all handmade by Dave in his kitchen and are pretty much organic (although he can't say so as it would involve him getting every spot of land he's foraged on organically certified).

All of this worthiness is pretty meaningless unless they taste good too; fortunately, they really do. I haven't tried them all yet as once opened they don't have an indefinite shelf life (although the ones I opened a few weeks ago and have kept in the fridge since are still going strong), but so far, so good. The first ones I tried were the rose and the lavender, aided by a gin-loving friend - we simply added a dash to a gin and tonic. The rose was my slight favourite and the lavender just edged it for the gin-loving friend, who confessed afterwards that she doesn't normally like floral flavours but loved this due to its natural rather than synthetic taste. I have since tried the hibiscus in a g&t and can pronounce it just as good, and am thinking of trying the spearmint in a Mojito-type concoction next.

The other one I've tried is the dandelion and burdock - with some trepidation, I must confess, as even the smell of a can of d&b is enough to make me queasy. Turns out, of course, that real dandelion and burdock tastes nothing like this commercial imposter but is in fact delicious - far more intensely savoury, with strong notes of ginger and star anise augmented by the judicious addition of a little black treacle. I treated this one like a cordial and just added some hot water - it was utterly wonderful and is one of my new favourite things. All of the syrups can be used with water, lemonade or in cocktails; Dave also suggests pouring this one over some ice cream (and confesses to having tested this particular combination extensively, all in the name of professionalism). I can imagine that next time I'm poorly, a hot drink made with one of these would be particularly comforting, and am saving the linden blossom for this very purpose at Dave's recommendation - apparently it can be used to treat colds, runny noses, sore throats, headaches and to relieve anxiety. This is a man who really knows his stuff.

The botanical syrups are obviously small batch produce that also, in some cases, rely upon seasonable availability, but are already available in select local bars (including the Lawn Club in Spinningfields, which uses some of the syrups in their cocktails). The Discover the Wild website is currently being revamped so that individual customers (me! me!) will be able to order through the site from next month; businesses can already order through the "shop" link if they would like to use or stock the products. Each syrup is priced at £5 for a 250ml bottle - I think this is a bargain, as they last for ages. And what could be nicer than an afternoon's foraging in the fridge and emerging triumphant with a well-earned cocktail? This is my kind of outdoorsiness.

- as well as beavering away in his kitchen, Dave has announced a number of foraging events for 2016 that are also listed on the website (including a foraged drinks one where you will take home your own bottle of syrup, and some mushroom ones that I'm very interested in, not least for the opportunities for fungi jokes that such an occasion affords). Most of these are priced at £35 and can be booked via the site. Dave gave me the range of syrups for feedback purposes but I will genuinely be purchasing again (and be paying good money to wander round a field in the rain looking for mushrooms).

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Bloggers' Brunch at Neighbourhood, Spinningfields: Sausage and Cocktails before Noon

There's something very attractive about a brunch menu. For one thing, it tends to include many of my favourite items, often involving a sausage or two, and bacon, and some eggs, and maybe a clutch of pancakes. For another, it opens up the thrilling possibility of hard liquor before lunchtime, somehow rendering it acceptable to knock back a martini or similar as long as it features something vaguely breakfasty - some kind of juice or marmalade product, perhaps. However, I rarely go out for brunch due to two basic flaws in the premise: I am an early riser but rarely find myself dressed and presentable in time for such occasions, and it forces me to forgo breakfast - something that makes me grumpy, and often a little petulant.

Still, the Bloggers' Brunch at Neighbourhood, held to preview their new mid-morning offering, looked to be worth attending, not least because the fragrant Didsbury Girl agreed to be my date. I've only eaten at Neighbourhood once before, and whilst the food was very good, I've always been slightly put off by the glitzy, rather waggish photos tweeted every Friday and Saturday night of thin women in small dresses drinking cocktails. And initial signs are not promising - we arrive to find the place full to bursting with hungry bloggers (always a terrifying sight), and whilst we bag a table to ourselves, it has a large tea stain right in the middle that isn't wiped away at any point. I ask for a pot of tea of my own and am brought half a coffee cup of hot water with bag and milk already in, and despite the fact that there can't have been more than a couple of inches of water in the cup, the teabag just isn't up to the job. I did warn you that not having breakfast made me grumpy.

The food itself is good though. We each order a main dish from the brunch menu - I go for the Full English, mindful of the importance of pork products at brunch - but are brought some samples unbidden in addition to this. The buttermilk pancakes arrive first, draped with a glossy chocolate sauce; the pancakes are light and fluffy and the sauce excellent, although I would have liked a few blueberries or other fruit items in the batter rather than just the solitary one on top (I ate that one - Didsbury Girl was too slow). We enjoy them, but wonder exactly how many you would get for the price of £7.50, which seems on the expensive side. Then comes the Breakfast Sandwich - a toasted muffin containing bacon, sausage and a fried egg. This is straightforward, and enjoyable, and I get to eat it all to myself as Didsbury Girl is given a spinach and mushroom number instead for her veggie option.

Best of all is the Full English Breakfast - two pork sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, Bury black pudding, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms and toast (except the mushrooms promised on the menu seem to have turned into baked beans - no matter). This is very good indeed; in fact, we both agree that the scrambled eggs are amongst the best we've had, hitting that correct balance between butter (lots of) and egg. The bacon is good quality and perfectly grilled, the toast is just to my liking, and they clearly understand here that a thick slice of black pudding is mandatory at brunchtime. My only (small) gripe is a preference for a thicker sausage. Meanwhile, across the table Didsbury Girl is enjoying her veggie option and is particularly taken with both the eggs and the spinach.

All of this takes a very long time to be served. But the staff are lovely - cheerful and efficient and liberal with the Bellinis and Mimosas that frequently appear as if by magic. It transpires that the kitchen were prepared for 34 guests but over 70 have turned up - and rather than gripe and sulk, Neighbourhood simply serve us all, with good grace and humour and some really very good food under the circumstances. Neighbourhood closes soon for a full refurb, and seems keen to position itself as a quality restaurant where everyone is welcome rather than just those hoping to bag a footballer - there is already a kids' corner with some excellent dressing-up props (erm, apparently), and all sorts of events are planned in order to fill this impressively large venue every night of the week. Definitely a case of watch this space I think (and hands off the crown in the dressing-up box - that's mine).

- Neighbourhood is at The Avenue North, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BT. The new brunch menu is available Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 2pm.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

New Fruit & Veg Box Delivery from Creamline Dairies Brings Healthy Smugness and NO MUD to Kitchen

I've never really grown out of the excitement of things being delivered to my house, in a box. I order shameless amounts of cookbooks from online retailers, secure in the knowledge that they will be delivered to my house, in a box. It's only a matter of time before I subscribe to one of those monthly beauty boxes, and a monthly gin club delivery, and pretty much anything else that can be delivered to my house, in a box. It's no surprise, then, that over the years I have subscribed to several different vegetable box deliveries - but, whilst a box of kohlrabi and carrots is genuinely even more more exciting to me than a box of beauty samples, I have yet to settle down with the right one. Abel & Cole got a bit mean, and Riverford just got too muddy - I don't require my veg scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, but when the leek-to-dirt ratio tipped in favour of the mud, it was time to part company.

I was interested, then, to try a box of wholesome goodies from new kid on the block, Creamline Dairies. Well, I say new - this family-run, Stockport-based business was actually founded in 1945, and is one of the leading independent dairy companies in the UK, having recently acquired the North West local delivery business of Dairy Crest, and also delivers a whole range of storecupboard essentials for people like me who lack the organisational skills to visit a shop. What is new, however, is the Fruit & Veg Box delivery service - you order what you want from the website (which is attractively set out and easy to use), they procure it all for you from local farmers and suppliers, and then deliver it to your door for free. There are over 60 varieties of fruit and veg to choose from, with minimum order set at a tenner.

They sent me a mixed, mystery box to try, and thus my excitement was actually palpable as I lifted the lid (carefully heeding the warning on the box about the fresh, perky nature of the contents). Inside were lots of vegetably basics - a big bag of potatoes, carrots, a swede, a couple of enormous onions, lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a head of broccoli the approximate size of my own, and NO MUD. Even better was the fruit selection: bananas, grapes, kiwi fruit, oranges, several different types of apple, plums and pears, each housed in a brown paper bag rather than yards of plastic and provided in the sort of sensible qualities that wouldn't overwhelm a girl who lives on her own.

I must admit, I do like the element of surprise in a random delivery of seasonal fruit and veg - it encourages me to try new things rather than just shove the same things in my basket every time (for example, I never normally buy lettuce but enjoyed the quick tea I was able to make with some elderly roast chicken thanks to its unwonted presence in my fridge). Creamline don't operate in this way - instead, you build your own box by just clicking on whatever you want, and you can either have a repeat order or place a completely new one each time. This is admittedly probably a better idea, although I do still applaud the sense of a box that simply makes the most of whatever is plentiful, fresh and available. Would I use the service again? Yes, most definitely - everything was of excellent quality (bar some plums that could have had a bit more flavour to them), and there really is no greater smugness than the health-giving presence of such a box in one's kitchen. Better for you than gin or lipsticks too (although I can't promise to give these up completely).

- order via the Creamline website here. I was sent this box for review purposes, but ate the lot (excluding the cardboard).

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Opera North Bring Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte to Manchester's Lowry Theatre

It's been a while since I've been to see Opera North, and I've missed them. Anyone who thinks opera is pretentious, or boring, or po-faced upper class nonsense really needs to spend an evening with this most talented of companies, who never fail to entertain and who understand that great opera should be funny as well as beautiful. I also like that they don't do things by halves and seemingly have no aversion to making life harder for themselves - they tend to rock up at The Lowry from time to time with not one but three different productions, all in the same week.

Last week I saw the first of these, an English-sung performance of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte. Now, most operas - at least the ones I have seen - are somewhat slim of plot, but this one is a pretty straightforward story even by opera standards. Don Alfonso is a philosopher who clearly has both too much time on his hands and an inherent distrust of women - to prove a point, he bets his two friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that their beloveds cannot stay faithful over the course of a day. During that day they must do whatever he says, and thus have to go along with the charade when he tells sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella that their menfolk have been sent overseas on active service. Cue lots of caterwauling and posing mournfully but attractively on high-backed chairs by the two young ladies, who are quite obviously going to pass the fidelity test with flying colours. Well, they might have done were it not for Don Alfonso and their feisty lady's maid Despina, who orchestrate a (not very) cunning plan in which Ferrando and Guglielmo dress up as two handsome strangers and put their seductive powers to the test.

As plots go, it's a deliberately sparse one. There's much to be enjoyed along the way - there are some surprisingly funny lines (often at the expense of female honour - even the name of the opera suggests that we're all the same) and the performances are flawless as usual. All but one of the cast are Opera North regulars, and we particularly enjoy the bumbling charms of Nicholas Watts and Gavin Ring as they haplessly attempt to both resist and seduce each other's girlfriends. The staging is also effectively handled, although understated by Opera North's standards - a one-room setting (the sisters' home) that contracts and expands like a vice to reflect the stifling nature of the situation and which cleverly uses doors and lifts to represent different elements of the seduction process. In other words, Opera North do nothing wrong. This just isn't one of my favourite operas - the music is beautiful, with its repeated motifs and stunning arias, but the story just isn't quite enough for me, and words that sound seductive in Italian don't always convey the same mystery and beauty when sung in English. The questions raised over sexual morals in this closed, claustrophobic world are interesting ones, but the distress of some of the characters - particularly Fiordiligi - under the manipulation of Don Alfonso is a little too discomfiting for me.

That said, there are few better ways of spending an evening than in the company of Opera North. They are young, enterprising, sexy and talented - and anyone who still thinks that opera is for the elite may like to know that later in the evening I found myself discussing just how poorly Fiordiligi had been treated with the lady herself (Maire Flavin) on Twitter. I'm already looking forward to their return - keep an eye on their website for news of upcoming productions. Just don't blame me if you end up speaking to everyone in song the next day...

- photos courtesy of Opera North: all photo credits Tristram Kenton.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vino & Spuntini: Or, Wine & Food Pairing at Veeno Manchester

There is a school of thought that there is no such thing as coincidence. I am quite happy for this to be so, as if there's no such thing as coincidence then the invitation to a wine and food pairing evening at Veeno which arrived a couple of days after a friend and I had been talking about going anyway was nothing less than a sign from above, telling us it was OK to go out and drink wine on a school night.

Thus sanctioned by higher powers, we take our places with around 20 other bloggers for the "Vino & Spuntini" Classic Winetasting experience: six wines from the family vineyard in Sicily, each paired with a different appetizer, including a sweet wine and dessert to finish. This is, of course, a marvellous idea - wine makes me hungry (well, even hungrier than I normally am anyway), and I'm a big fan of the Italian way of eating, where little plates of tempting snacks are considered de rigueur when consuming any form of alcohol. The Veeno way turns out to test one's will power to a quite extraordinary degree though - the snack platters you see here (each one shared between four of us) arrive at the start of the evening and it is UP TO US to control ourselves and resist each item until its wine-matched partner turns up. We do well at this, but it takes some effort, and we note that elsewhere on the table others have not paced themselves with such care (and have indeed wolfed the platter as soon as it arrives).

The first pairing is the house white with bread and olive oil. The olive oil is exceptional, amongst the best I've tasted in this country, and I note with some interest that it can be purchased in the Veeno shop. The wine, a light number made from the Catarratto grape, is nothing special though - the waitress cheerily suggests that it's so light it's a bit like water, and whilst this may be a fine quality in the balminess of an Italian summer, it's perhaps not the first thing one would look for in a wine on a brisk March evening in Manchester.

The next wine is billed as "our fruitiest" and is much nicer than the first - a fresh, peachy number from the Inzolia grape that copes well with the olives and tapenade that accompany it. Then we're on to the reds, and "our smoothest", a blend of Frappato and Nerello which is a good match for a feisty Salame Milano. I enjoy the classic Sicilian Nero d'Avola and its partnering with Parma ham, and likewise the final red, a classy Cabernet Sauvignon served with Parmigiano Reggiano. This is billed as an elegant pairing and indeed it is, although the way in which we fall upon the pieces of (excellent) Parmigiano after we have been looking at it for the best part of an hour is perhaps less so.

To close, we have a small shot of Marsala Superiore Riserva, a sweet dessert wine served with homemade Tiramisu. I ask to forgo this course as a confirmed coffee hater; instead they kindly bring me some very good lemon sorbet, a nice touch on a set pairing menu. The Marsala goes down a treat, and I am pleased to recall that I have a bottle of this in my booze cabinet at home which has been waiting for some time for me to find a use for it (a use which, I now realise, is simply to be poured into a glass and consumed).

Overall we have a very enjoyable night. Veeno is a friendly little place with a great atmosphere, and whilst I wouldn't order all of these wines on their own, most of them stand up well to their food pairings, which are well-chosen and of good quality. The Classic Winetasting that we try is priced at £19.90, which seems good value for the amount you get - I would certainly go again. Veeno Manchester is part of a small chain of wine cafes founded by Nino and Andrea, who opened the Manchester branch in 2013 in order to spread their love of Italian food and wine - a noble cause that I, for one, am happy to throw my weight behind (as long as it involves perching on a bar stool eating breadsticks).

- Veeno Manchester is at 2, Albert Square M2 6LW. This was a press evening where we were not asked to pay for our food or drink, but at under £20 I would have happily forked out anyway.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Yu Chinese Restaurant, Alderley Edge: not just for whippets and WAGs

For me, one of life's greatest pleasures is to have a few drinks on a Friday or Saturday night and then go for a banquet at my (pretty good) local Chinese restaurant. When funds are more limited, I am equally happy to pop to my (pretty good) local Chinese takeaway and have a classy sofa picnic in front the telly. In other words, Chinese is not necessarily something I would associate with "fine dining", but more a case of snarfing as many prawn crackers as I can in the shortest possible space of time without making the corners of my mouth sore or getting crumbs on the carpet.

Yu in Alderley Edge is a whole world away from this. It's hidden away behind Piccolino's, with only a small sign alerting you to its presence behind a big wooden door with an ornate knocker that you don't actually have to use (thankfully - I had visions of someone sneering superciliously at me through a spyhole and sending me packing for not being Alderley enough, a very real possibility when I compare myself to the whippet-like girl in tiny dress and monster heels who shows us to our table). The website has no prices on it, a worrying prospect for us out-of-towners and something that, to be honest, would have put me off of booking were I not here to review. In other words, we are suspicious of Yu, and feel we might not belong here.

Actually, we really enjoy it. The decor is bling but beautiful - clusters of blue lights made especially for the restaurant in Egypt hang above each table, making our spot feel both cosy and intimate despite the restaurant being pretty empty on a wet Wednesday night (although they ARE responsible for some interesting shadows in the photos). The manager, Kostas, is friendly, guiding us through the menu (which this time has prices on, some of them eye-wateringly high) before giving up on our indecision and simply choosing for us. We also meet Vinny, one of the two brothers who own and run the restaurant (brother Victor is busy head cheffing in the kitchen) - but more of him and his portable cocktail station later.

We share three starters between us - the soft shell crab special, the duck spring rolls and a portion of sui mai. I'm a sucker for soft shell crab and this is excellent - the batter is light and crisp, the crab satisfyingly chewy and the accompanying crispy noodles a nice foil for the spiciness of the chillies and onions scattered over the top. The spring rolls are each the approximate size of a small bungalow and are packed with dense, gamey meat - in fact, they're almost too meaty, but I consider this amongst the very finest of life's faults, and we enjoy them very much. The sui mai are fine but actually not as good as the (admittedly excellent) ones from my local takeaway.

Next up, we share the restaurant's "signature dish" - Deconstructed Crispy Duck and Pancakes. I imagine this one is likely to divide opinion, with mutterings along the lines of why mess with a classic - and its £28 price tag is pretty hefty even taking into account that this dish takes more than 24 hours to make. I actually rather like that it's a bit different though - you can have crispy duck any time (and I frequently do), so this take on it made a pretty exciting change (and yes, I know I need to get out more). The platter is filled with different ducky parts - thinly sliced breast, shredded dark meat and small curls of crispy skin - along with spring onions and cucumber in Yuzu and a lovely thick Hoi Sin sauce, and we like the fact that you can vary the contents of each pancake (well, in theory you can - we just shove as much of all of it in as we can, a fact made embarrassingly clear by the number of pancakes we have left over).

We are pretty full by this time, and have a short break before sharing another dish as a main - Wok Seared Ribeye with Honey Glazed Satay - and a side of pak choi. The beef dish is a good balance of sweetness from the honey and heat from the chillies, and, like the duck spring rolls, is generous with the meat (although at £31, you wouldn't want anything less). The pak choi is the best I've had, although it cruelly exposes my lack of skill with chop sticks, and the waitress is kind enough to say nothing as she wipes the splatters from the table afterwards.

For dessert, my date goes for the coconut and ginger ice cream (his face visibly drops when the waitress brings two spoons, assuming - correctly - that I won't be able to resist). This is delicious although quite straightforward, and provides a suitably refreshing end to the meal. I am too full for my own pudding and am given something MUCH better instead - Vinny sets up a cocktail tray at our table and whips me up an excellent smoky old fashioned whilst I look on and ponder the fact that this might just be the most exciting thing that has happened to me all year (yes, again - need to get out more). Vinny is apparently keen to get his tray out as often as possible, although I'm guessing that the place is too full of WAGs at the weekend to allow for such theatrics.

Overall, we are impressed, and we agree that we would come again (if only for Vinny and his tray). The food is mostly very good, although some of it IS very expensive and I would order carefully from a menu where the most expensive dish (the Gordon Ramsay-approved Wagyu beef) comes in at £69. Still, any remaining doubts that Yu is a little too pretentious, a little too Cheshire, are expelled by Vinny's offer to make me fishfinger butties next time I go; after all, it's possible to have too much fine-dining.

- Yu is on London Rd, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, SK9 7QD. We did not pay for our meal but that has not affected my review.