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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The International Cheese Awards 2013: Absolutely NO Lessons Learned about Moderation Since 2012

Now, whilst I am not particularly noted for self-restraint in any area of life, there are certain foodstuffs that I simply cannot be trusted with. You should never, for example, leave me unsupervised with one of those big bags of crisps that are supposedly for sharing; you will not only return to find I have eaten the lot, but you will also then have to listen to me complaining about how I feel a bit sick. Similarly, I came home from last year's International Cheese Awards in Nantwich having over-indulged to a quite shameful extent, clutching my stomach in a theatrical manner and bewailing my belly ache, and proclaiming to anyone who would listen how I would never, ever eat cheese again.

Well, I've been again today, and the fact that I can barely type these words through the fug of my cheese coma should give you a fairly clear idea how much of a valuable life lesson I managed to extract from last year's experiences. To be fair, to place someone with a weakness for dairy items in a marquee the size of France, entirely filled with cheese, and expect them to show any kind of self-control seems foolish: there are around 600 cheese makers displaying their wares at this year's show, and pretty much all of them have counters positively groaning with trays of samples - in other words, trying six different blue cheeses by 10.30 this morning was, in my view, entirely acceptable. The exhibitors range from tiny artisan producers to the giants of the high street (TESCO had done their stall up with fancy lettering rather than their usual branding, but I wasn't fooled into stopping), and all of them are lovely people keen to tell you about the craft behind their cheese. Obviously I didn't sample every cheese from every seller (don't look at me like that - I said I didn't), but here are some of my favourites from the ones I did snaffle during my saunter round The Great Cheesy Tent.

- Claxstone Smooth Blue. This one was named Supreme Champion at the National Cheese Awards 2012 - and deservedly so. It is soft, creamy and mild - so mild, in fact, that there was no problem at all with the fact that this was essentially my breakfast.

- EuriLait's unpasteurised Paysan Breton Camembert Pays. I love a good, ripe, runny Camembert and this one was perfect - full of taste but stopping just short of being too much like feet. Excitingly, it is available at Sainsbury's under their Taste the Difference branding - I intend to buy a lot of this from now on (oh - if I were ever to eat cheese again, which obviously I'm not. Well, not for a few days, anyway).

- The Little Milk Company's Sliabh na mBan Vintage Organic Cheddar. This collective of 11 Irish organic dairy farmers makes four different cheeses using its own milk but this one is by far the best - a really strong, nutty mature Cheddar aged for 12-24 months. Here you see a lovely man about to cut me a modest sliver, shortly before I rugby tackle him out the way and snarf the whole lot.

- Everything from Brindisa. Best known for their London tapas restaurants, turns out that these Spanish food specialists also have excellent taste in cheese.

- Dewlay Garstang Blue. I already knew I liked this strong, creamy blue - but I now also know that they do group tasting tours (I just need to find another 14 people to go with me, so if you're interested...)

- Staffordshire Cheese Company's Dovedale Black and Blue. I'd had the Dovedale Blue before - but this one has had cracked black peppercorns added in a stroke of sheer cheesy genius.

- Almette soft cheese from the Alps. I'd planned to go straight past this stall, thinking it would be some dreary Philadelphia-type stuff, but a nice lady persuaded me to try it and it was a revelation - a gorgeously milky whipped confection that I would most probably eat straight from the tub were I to be allowed any.

- And finally, as I'm just back from Amsterdam I must just mention the new packaging for Old Amsterdam. I've written before about this aged Gouda, but whilst we like the cheese, we didn't like the packaging - too Gothic apparently - so here's the same delicious cheese with its new simple, non-threatening branding:

You can try all of these and more when the show is open to the public tomorrow - Wednesday 31st July - as well as watch demos from James Martin, Will Holland and Matt Tebbutt. Full details are available on the show's website, where you can also download all the results of today's judging (I was not asked to be a judge, as they no doubt realise I would be no use and would simply like them all), including the Supreme Champion, which at time of writing had not yet been announced. Not for nothing have the International Cheese Awards been voted the 2nd best food festival in the UK by The Independent - now if I can just learn to practise a little more decorum, I will be ready and raring to go for the 2014 awards...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

IN Bloom, The Return: And This Time, it's SUNNY

So, last month I went to the launch of a new pop-up bar in Spinningfields - a lovely, outdoorsy sort of place, so naturally, Manchester's weather did its worst. Well, what a difference a few weeks make - for when I went back to IN Bloom Bar last week for lunch, it was so hot that I was forced to complain constantly from the moment I left the house until the very second I plonked myself down on the lovely shaded terrace area, in the manner of an ungrateful English person who deserves nothing more than a good downpour. And actually, the sight of Spinningfields resplendent in the sun was enough to warm the heart - it seemed that the whole of Manchester was here, basking during its lunch hour (or possibly skiving off for the afternoon - difficult to be entirely sure) on The Lawns or enjoying a cocktail or two at one of the twin bars that now sit either side like Sirens luring thirsty Mancunians past the dangers of the LK Bennett sale. Of the two - The Long Bar and IN Bloom - the latter is by far my favourite, particularly now that the summer flowers are everywhere and the ivy is really starting to grow across the outside of the bar, ably decorated by the lovely Charlie's yarnbomb roses.

Anyway, we're here to try the food, as despite its general pocket-sizedness, IN Bloom is now offering a limited but fairly irresistible menu of choice items. First up is barbecue, with charming chef Adrian manning the grill and serving up sausages and burgers at £3 and £5 respectively - we both try a burger and find it juicy and pink and, predictably enough, sourced from the King of the Manchester Meatworld, Frosty Butcher. We follow this up with an antipasti sharing platter, which arrives laden with meats (the bresaola being a highlight), cheese, Egyptian-spiced hummus, artisan bread, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, caperberries and pickles - it is delicious, and it is hard to imagine how I might ever come for a drink here ever again and NOT manage to eat one of these, even as a pre-dinner warm-up item. There is also a meat or cheese option available, and home-made soups - although I think these have been suspended while the hot weather is here. Still, as IN Bloom is here for at least two years, the planned Autumn refurbishment will see the outdoor space converted to a completely covered seating area and there will no doubt be plenty of time for soup eating.

To wash all this down we tried a selection of the bar's cocktails, so over to your friend and mine the Liquor Chick to tell us all about them...

There’s nothing better than sitting back, relaxing and having a nice cool summer's drink in the garden at this time of year but, as nice as it is, there are just a few things missing when you’re sitting in your own back garden... the murmuring excitement and social buzz of being out in a city like Manchester and not to mention someone to make your drinks for you. There is a limited selection of cocktails available, but that is not always a bad thing. Although they could have a slightly wider selection of cocktails, the good thing about having a smaller amount of cocktails available is that they are likely to make them more often and therefore they will be more consistent for that reason. This was proven in the cocktails I tried; they were all well made and the menu didn’t always include some of the additional ingredients which make them even better value for money. For instance, I tried their Late in the Evening cocktail which is similar to a Kir Royale but it contains blackberries and sweet citrus rather than Cassis and what I didn’t know from the menu was that it also contained a small shot of vodka. If you like Champagne based cocktails, such as the Bellini or Kir Royale of the cocktail world, then you’ll love this drink.

Two of my favourite cocktails of the day were the Vanilla Mint Julep, which trust me is a LOT stronger than it sounds (= happy me), and the Country Garden Sour. The Vanilla Mint Julep, a bourbon based cocktail, is the type of cocktail that both men and women will love and is presented in a stylish metal container and had a great kick to it. The other bourbon based cocktail I tried was the Country Garden Sour, you can choose a range of base spirits for this; so whichever you choose, I’m sure it will go nicely with the home grown herbs and citrus flavours in this cocktail (all of which went perfectly with the bourbon). Incidentally, most of the herbs used by IN Bloom have been grown on site by the bar’s resident herb gardener, 81-year-old Tony Hicks, who is no doubt toiling away AT THIS VERY MOMENT, just so we can drink cocktails.

For those of you that like Porn Star Martinis and sweet cocktails you’ll love the Porn Star Mojito, which includes vanilla, passion fruit, mint and prosecco. A refreshing drink which is perfect for the summer, come day or night. In Bloom provides a perfect place to relax on their terrace and I couldn’t fault any of the drinks I tried, I’ll definitely be returning to try the whole menu again *ahem* just to check on their consistency of course...

- IN Bloom is by the side of The Lawns, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3JE.

Friday, 19 July 2013

New Menu at SoLIta - Oh, and a Really Sporty Andy Murray Burger

There is a certain type of person who is, I think, best viewed with suspicion. I'm talking about those people who claim it's too hot to eat - they've lost their appetite completely, and can't possibly fancy anything to eat, except maybe just this lettuce leaf and perhaps the fruit out the Pimms. This is nonsense of course - it is NEVER too hot to eat, particularly if you are lucky enough to be having lunch at SoLIta on the hottest day of the year so far; indeed, the energy expended in actually managing to put one foot in front the other in such blistering conditions means that you should actually eat MORE, lest you expire there and then on the pavement in the Northern Quarter.

Now, I never need much of an excuse to eat at SoLIta, but there are some new dishes on the menu and this seemed as good a reason as any to go along and try them out - particularly as some of the dishes that have come off to make way for the new ones were dear favourites. Fortunately, the new stuff is pretty fabulous: for our starters, we go entirely vegetarian (you know me - ever health conscious) with the Lucky 7 layered dip and the Eggplant Fritters, and both are delicious. You might have to be quick to get the latter, as Franco keeps threatening to take them off the menu, but we must rise up and say no to such blatant aubergine bullying - they are perfect beings, crisply battered on the outside and softly melting on the inside, and presented perched coyly over a rich tomato sauce. The Lucky 7 dip is similarly pleasing in its construction - although the beautiful strata, formed from layers of refried beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, cheese, olives and lettuce, last about 15 seconds before they are mined ruthlessly with the aid of some blue corn tortilla chips.

For mains, we share another of the new dishes but also can't resist trying the current special - the Andy Murray burger. There's been plenty of press coverage of this meaty tribute to that Scottish bloke who won some tennis thing a couple of weeks ago, so you probably already know that it's a burger topped with deep-fried haggis and bacon, and then smothered with whisky and Irn Bru sauce - and it's every bit as bonkersly fabulous as it sounds. We attempt to balance out this excess with the new CrabAcado salad, although this does not, in truth, entirely qualify as a healthy item, delicious as it is. The pile of crabmeat is fresh and light, and the crisp, salty bacon reclining on top forms a nice contrast; we find it a little thin on actual salad though, and would like more avocado and a bit less bacon. To be fair, Franco is already on to this, and so I think a few tweaks might already have been performed to turn this into a really great dish.

Tragically, we are too full for dessert - still, this just creates another reason to go back. And anyway, I really can't help it if I'm one of those people who just can't manage to eat a thing when it's hot...

- SoLIta is on Turner Street in the Northern Quarter. We were not asked to pay for our meal on this visit.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Vermilion at Sport City, Manchester: New Grazing Menu Prompts Even More Greed than Usual

Sometimes, being so greedy can cause a diner great - although, admittedly, first-world - problems. When you like almost everything, as I do, menu choices are never easy; I dislike coffee, and am not keen on celery, and am quite happy to decline a Bounty bar, but that's pretty much it - everything else on the menu is fair game. Hurrah, then, for the new Grazing Menu at Vermilion, a selection of dainty dishes very much in keeping with the current Manchester fondness for eating lots of smaller plates - but more of that later. Vermilion, that well-regarded purveyor of Thai, Indian and Asian Fusion cuisine, is one of those places I've been meaning to visit for ages but haven't due to sheer laziness - it's slightly out of the city centre, located at Sport City (which is NOT somewhere I would normally have cause to go), and therefore a little off the radar; actually, it's only a few minutes walk from Piccadilly, and is certainly worth the trip - not least to marvel at the pretty remarkable building. Their solution to being slightly out of town is to make Vermilion something of a destination restaurant - and the results are really quite spectacular. The red lighting and exuberant decor won't be to everyone's taste but I love it (not least because the air conditioning is fearsomely efficient); they've also been pretty clever in how the space has been divided up. This is a huge restaurant, seating 200 people, but metal frames section the vastness into more convivial areas - there are perhaps 20 people in when we dine early on a stiflingly hot Wednesday but the atmosphere is surprisingly cheery, with everyone seated in the restaurant's central section.

And this cheery atmosphere is also no doubt partly due to the food - for the food here is good. The Grazing Menu offers a list of dishes priced between £3 and £7 from which the hungry diner is encouraged to choose four per head - ideally you should take an equitably-tempered husband or other companion with you, as then you can choose his four dishes as well and make sure you eat most of them on his behalf. We start with the Poppadum Platter from the main menu (primarily because I've never yet said no to a poppadum, and certainly don't plan to start now); these arrive pre-broken into handy bite-size pieces, along with three small dishes of chutney, and whilst £4.95 seems on the expensive side, they are very good.

We then move on to our chosen grazing dishes (note the use of the plural possessive pronoun), which all arrive together and consist of the following:

- Thai Papaya Salad: our one concession to even vaguely healthy eating, this dish of shredded crunchiness is nicely spicy and is - apparently - the most popular salad in Thailand.
- Hoy Malang Phu: or, two big fat mussels topped with lemon butter and herb crust - these are lovely.
- Seafood Dim Sum: prawns, crab, shitake mushrooms and salmon, wrapped in wheat jackets to produce two sturdy, surprisingly meaty parcels. I would have liked to be able to taste the individual flavours more clearly, but the overall package is delicious.
- Squid Prik Thai: salt and pepper squid just briefly griddled and served with fresh chillies and fish sauce - this is really light and fresh, and is probably good for me as well.
- Rock Lobster: four pieces of lobster served with black pepper sauce and perfumed with truffle oil. I am happy to eat lobster under any circumstances and this is no exception; I can't really taste the truffle oil though. Both the squid and the lobster are heavy on the fish sauce, which suits me as it is a flavour I love - and luckily I have an excellent bottle of Pinot Grigio to hand to quench any resulting thirst.
- Barbary Duck Red Curry: I really like this dish - served with grapes, pineapples and garnished with Thai sweet basil, it is a perfect combination of sweetness and spiciness. I would eat it all if it wasn't for this stupid sharing business.
- Lamb Massaman: this little pan of curry is my favourite dish of the night - it has just the right earthiness to it, and the chunks of lamb are generous and tender. I try to snaffle all the pices of lamb and it serves me right when some of them are potato.
- Beef Phad Prik: this dish is Mr Liz's particular choice and although it is a little too hot for me, he very much enjoys the spiciness of the chilli, capsicums and green aromatic peppercorn. He eats it all and feels less bitter about the division of the lamb dish.

We also try the three mini desserts (carrot cake, creme brulee and chocolate tart), by far the best of which is the creme brulee. To be honest though, next time I would skip dessert and order another savoury dish instead. As someone who often just orders lots of starters in a restaurant, this sort of dining is right up my street, but I understand it wouldn't be to everyone's taste - it could get quite expensive quite quickly, and whilst Mr Liz enjoys every dish we try he has already seen several things on the main menu that he would prefer to eat all to himself. Before we leave we have a quick look at the fairly fabulous Cinnabar upstairs, where pod-type booths filled with cushions look worryingly tempting - these can be booked in advance, and I have a very real fear that once I lay in one of these I might never get out again.

So, slightly over-the-top? Yes. On the pricey side? Yes. But would I go back? Yes - preferably on a night that Husband Cabs was running...

- Vermilion is on Hulme Hall Lane/Lord North Street, Manchester M40 8AD. The Grazing Menu is only available at certain times and each diner must order at least 4 dishes - see website for more details. We were invited to dine as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our meal.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Grain Loft at Manchester Airport: New Food Quarter brings NEW HOPE to Pre-Flight Dining

Now, I'm guessing that if you were to sit down and compile a list of your favourite places to eat, "at the airport" would not be jostling with L'Enclume et al for the top spot. Indeed, airport food is notoriously something to be endured rather than savoured, often consisting of an unpleasant burger from a chain or an overpriced breakfast in an airport "pub", chewing sadly on your extortionate withered sausage at 7 in the morning as you try to ignore a/ the group of lads embarking on their second pint of the day and b/ the furtively envious, those-were-the-days looks your own husband is shooting towards said group.

Now, though, things are looking up. I was as surprised as anyone to be invited to Manchester Airport to experience the revamped food quarter at Terminal 1 as well as the new flagship pub, The Grain Loft, but I was seduced by all the exciting talk of going "airside" and "travelling light" and decided to go along for a look (although, distressingly, this did involve travelling without lip gloss in my bag for the first time since about 1993, as well as having to walk straight past a Kurt Geiger sale due to lack of boarding card - difficult times).

Anyway, the new food quarter is on the ground floor of departures at Terminal 1, and looks at first glance very much like any other such establishment - there's a Burger King and a Giraffe amongst the usual suspects - until you see THIS:

This is Ginge-Air, the hopelessly cute younger, smaller sibling of the Ginger's Comfort Emporium ice cream van that has become such a familiar (and always welcome) sight in and around Manchester. Claire's amazing artisan ice creams will be available here for the next three months - the plan then being that another street trader will take her place - and obviously in the interests of professional journalism I was forced to try a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of the legendary salted caramel, despite having an intimate working knowledge of these superlative food items already:

Other vendors within the food quarter include Mi Casa Burritos, Upper Crust and The Pasty Shop - we sampled some of the freshly-made beef, pork and chicken burritos from the former and found them most acceptable, if a little difficult to eat gracefully from a paper napkin whilst standing up and trying to hobnob intelligently. After this, it was up the escalator to The Grain Loft bar, which has already apparently been a great success since opening in March, and of which the airport staff are quite openly proud. This is not an easy space - it used to be a take-a-tray-style cafeteria, and filling the vastness with something inviting and welcoming was always going to be a challenge. Still, operators SSP have actually done a pretty good job, dividing the space into smaller booths and seating areas, including some very cool sound pods which allow you to listen to your own iPod playlist without disturbing other diners. We tried these and they were something akin to magic - step outside the booth and all you can hear is the noise of the bar; step back in and you are surrounded by your own music - and as no-one else can hear, you don't even need to worry about the shuffle option picking something less than cool from your playlist (not that there is ANY Tracey Ullman or similar on my iPod).

We also very much liked the self-serve beer taps - always fun and a clever way to keep traffic away from the bar at busy times. Have a look at Gordo Manchester's attempt at pouring his own pint on his Twitter feed, and if you can spot any beer under all that froth then your eyes are certainly keener than mine. We sampled a number of the local ales available, including Jaipur and Tzara from Thornbridge Brewery; thrillingly, the food menu also offers a "Beer Can" Chicken - a whole, beer-marinated chicken roasted over a can of Jaipur. The menu suggests this a sharer dish, but I'll be the judge of that - it certainly tasted a whole lot better than the chicken I once barbecued over a can of Sainsbury's Value lager. In fact, the whole menu is pretty tempting, offering beer brisket rolls, fish and chips and some amazing beer-battered slices of Bury black pudding amongst other sturdy delights - you can see the full menu here.

Clearly, then, this is not a place you would make a special journey to. But in terms of airport food and drink this is a massive step forward - indeed, I'm already wishing that my forthcoming flight to Amsterdam was going out of Terminal 1 rather than 3, so if I can just get Claire to to wheel Ginge-Air across the airport for me...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Last Day of the Aperol Spritz Social at Spinningfields - and some Lucky Winners

So, I thought an Aperol Spritz competition would be popular. Manchester is by and large a thirsty sort of city, with excellent taste, and has welcomed this bitter-sweet Italian aperitif to its heart and its drinks cabinet with equal enthusiasm. I wasn't expecting the hundred of entries that I actually got though, from places as far flung as Cornwall (also a thirsty lot, apparently), so we must all smile gracefully for the cameras and say jolly well done to the winners Jenny and Rebecca, who I'm pleased to say are both local girls as well.

If you didn't win, then dry your tears and go to Spinningfields immediately, where you will find a whole TENT full of Aperol - it's the final day of Spinningfields residency for the Aperol Spritz Social pop-up bar, and the weather really couldn't be better for a day sitting outside, drinking spritzes and watching Andy Murray get thumped at tennis by that other one on the big screen.

A couple of words of warning. 1. Yes, the Aperol photo booth is fun, but none of the 157 photos I insisted on having taken there last week were even remotely flattering, and 2. Aperol Spritzes are far, far more alcoholic than they seem. So if you see this lovely lady bearing down upon you at any point during the course of the day, do try not to mug her for her tray...

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Room Restaurant: An Old Favourite Still on Form

Recently, I wrote about how exciting it is to live in a city which constantly reinvents itself, where new bars and restaurants spring up in different parts of town to tempt the hungry diner or the thirsty drinker at every turn. Exciting as this is, such regeneration means that old favourites sometimes get temporarily (or even permanently) forgotten, as shiny new upstarts jostle for your attention and lay ever increasing demands on both your time and your available dining funds.

Such a venue is Room, that venerable - not to mention graceful - stalwart that sits so regally on Spring Gardens at the top of King Street. I used to come here all the time, but have neglected it shockingly in recent years for no discernable reason other than lack of days in the week; now though, I've been back to try the new summer menu, and remembered all the reasons I loved it in the first place.

Firstly, the building itself is beautiful, a Grade II listed Victorian pile that used to be The Reform Club and still has a whiff of the Victorian gentleman about it (in a good way). We went on a Friday night and the bar at the front of the building was very loud and very busy; perhaps too noisy for anyone hoping for a quiet tête-à-tête, but the high ceilings help dissipate the volume, and personally I would rather eat somewhere cheerful and busy rather than silent and deserted any day.

Secondly - and most importantly - the food is great. Room's premise is a simple one: offer a menu full of classic dishes, but with a twist - you may recognise the name of the dish you are ordering, but when it comes it won't be quite what you were expecting (again, in a good way). In less skilled hands this could, I think, become a little tiresome and gimmicky, with exasperated diners baying for a good old plate of something plain and predictable rather than a fancy tower of something they didn't quite want, but fortunately the cooking at Room is always good and often excellent and thus the twists become intriguing and fun rather than annoying and unnecessary.

Take the starters, for example. We were lucky enough to have a sharing plate containing four different starters in order that we might try more dishes, but one of these was the dish I would have ordered anyway. The prawn and crab cocktail came without a lettuce leaf in sight; instead, king prawns - hot, juicy, salty - in a crisp tempura batter reclined seductively on plump pillows of crab meat spiced with cayenne pepper and served with guacamole, tomato jelly and apple crisps. I thought the chewy apple slice didn't really match the rest of the dish, but otherwise this was excellent, forcing a normally impeccably behaved diner to run her finger hopefully over the area where the crab had once been.

We also found the mushroom and Gruyere croquettes a surprise favourite: I wouldn't normally order something so apparently unassuming, but these were just lovely - wild mushrooms with shallots in a thick béchamel with gruyere cheese, seasoned with truffle oil and tarragon and then bread-crumbed into a sexy cylinder, then served with mushroom puree, pickled girolle mushrooms and some mushroom jam. Yes, that's a LOT of mushrooms, but simply don't order it if you DON'T LIKE mushrooms. The third starter we tried was the smoked salmon, served as a layered terrine with butter flavoured with shallots, capers and cornichons and presented with a shot of Bloody Mary tomato consomme and vodka-spiced cucumbers; in other words, it made a mockery of someone whose normal idea of a classy starter is to open a packet of smoked salmon and whip up a few mini pancakes to go with. Finally, the ham, egg and peas was very special - a sliced ballotine of shredded ham hock presented with pea mousse, pancetta crisps, pea shoot salad and, most excitingly of all, soft poached quail eggs coated with some sort of porky "air bag" to produce a thrilling hybrid a little like piggy popcorn. I would happily eat any of these starters again, particularly as normal-sized portions will be bigger than the tasters you see here.

For mains, we ordered off menu rather than sample several different options - primarily because I had my heart set on the monkfish bhaji and wouldn't be swayed by anything else. These didn't let me down: three large pieces of fish coated in a coriander-scented batter and deep-fried to produce the world's biggest and best bhajis. It wasn't just about the balls though: well-judged accompaniments included a bed of creamy coconut and spinach lentils, a little pan of Bombay potatoes and a most exciting pickle tray complete with poppadoms. The only bit I wasn't sure about was the little bottle of lassi served on the side - was it a drink or a dressing? Either way, it wasn't needed - I like a moist dinner as much as the next person, but there were plenty of suitable items on the pickle tray for dipping one's balls in, and if it was meant to be drink then serving it with a thicker straw would be a good idea. This is a minor quibble though - the dish as a whole was sublime and well worth a visit for this alone.

Meanwhile, Mr Liz was insisting on steak for main. I tried to get him to change his mind - purely and selfishly so I could see another dish-with-a-twist - but he (probably quite rightly) said that he wanted steak, and many others going to Room would want steak, and would therefore want to know what it was like. He ordered a sirloin medium-rare, and it was certainly a generously-sized piece of meat, served with a basket of excellent chips and - thrillingly - a little bone marrow fritter. I had a little taste of the steak and felt that I'd had sirloin with better flavour, but to be fair I had just been stuffing my face with spicy bhaji and I think this coloured my judgement slightly - Mr Liz felt the whole dish was very good, although perhaps a little generous with the watercress (but then again, too much of any kind of greenery makes him uneasy).

For dessert, we went for the sharing platter: two helpings each of three mini puddings selected from the menu by the chef. The best of these was the carrot cake, served with toffeed carrots and a carrot ice cream that really worked - this is what I would order next time. On the ground floor of our dessert palace resided some "chocolate and milk", a very rich chocolate marquise with hazelnuts and an excellent milk ice cream, and some "strawberries and cream" - a layered jellied terrine of strawberries and cream which I very much enjoyed, although I found the accompanying shot of strawberry soup a little too sweet (Mr Liz drank it, just to finally lay the watercress anxiety to bed).

We were invited in to review the new menu and were not asked to pay for our meal, but prices here range from £5.95 to £11.95 for a starter and £14.50 to £24.50 for mains - not cheap, then, but I would say worth it for the inventiveness and quality of both the menu and the cooking, and they do run excellent value set price lunch and dinner menus. Neither of us was drinking as I had a cold and Mr Liz was driving, but we both fancy going back and trying some of the cocktails, particularly as selected drinks are just £4.95 between 5pm and 8pm Monday to Friday. Now if I could just get them to bring me out a few monkfish bhaji to the bar area, everything would be perfect...

- Room is at 81 King Street, Manchester, M2 4AH; Tel 0161 839 2005.