Jamie’s Italian, Manchester

It’s been a while since I ate at Jamie’s Italian, but after seeing it featured in an article on Manchester’s most beautiful chain restaurants, I was feeling eager to return. It certainly is a gorgeous interior – the grade II listed building is actually an old bank and the restaurant has kept plenty of the original features. We were seated at a table on the mezzanine balcony, and had a great view over the restaurant as well as getting plenty of lovely spring sunlight from the huge high windows up there.

Jamie's Italian Manchester

We were invited down to Jamie’s to celebrate the launch of their new Super Lunch Menu, which is excellent value at two courses for £12.95 or three courses for £14.95 (available from Mon-Fri 12-6pm), and has a nice range of options. However, we couldn’t help but be tempted by the day’s specials which just sounded too amazing when our waiter described them!

Jamie's Italian - Tuna steak special

Jamie's Italian - Pork chop special

I went for the tuna steak, which came served with a beetroot and quinoa salad and yoghurt dressing. And I can’t even explain how delicious this dish was, as well as looking pretty. I was expecting my tuna medium rare (it’s Jamie’s style) and it was cooked to perfection. And although I thought it sounded like an unusual combination, it actually went perfectly with the salad and dressing. In fact it was the yoghurt dressing that really added something special – I don’t know what was in it but it tasted amazing! Craig opted for the pork chop special which came served with pea and mint mash, and again this pairing was delicious, even if it did sound like an unusual combination at first.

The Cocktail Menu at Jamie’s Italian is very tempting, with plenty of variety and new (Italian) twists on familiar cocktails. I decided to try a Florence Fizz, made with Limoncello, pomegranate juice, elderflower cordial and prosecco, and it was very refreshing and summery – the perfect thing for a sunny evening in Manchester.

Jamie's Italian - Florence Fizz cocktail

And for dessert we opted for the Epic Brownie. I’ve had a brownie dessert at Jamie’s before, but it has since been slightly reinvented with salted caramel ice cream and lashings of proper chocolate sauce as well as the signature caramelised popcorn topping. It’s a delicious and fun dessert, and still as amazing as it used to be. It’s also one of the dessert options on the Super Lunch Menu, which is great news!

Jamie's Italian - Brownie

Jamie’s Italian in Manchester is such a gorgeous venue that it’s easy to forget its part of a chain at all. It’s ideal for a special occasion, particularly if you consider their glamourous private dining room located (excitingly) in the old bank vault. But also this new Super Lunch Menu makes it ideal for a reasonably-priced lunch or early after-work bite and drinks with friends.

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Zouk Cookery School

In my Christmas gift guide last month I suggested that a cookery skills workshop would be a great gift for a foodie-type person, and a couple of weekends ago I got the chance to try one out myself at Zouk. Zouk is a lovely Indian restaurant in Manchester, and when they offered me a place on one of their half-day cookery workshops I jumped at the chance, because I really wanted to know the secrets to making dishes that taste as delicious as in a restaurant (because no homemade curry ever really compares).

What’s nice about Zouk Cookery School is that there are a range of themed workshops to choose from, so you can pick the one that most appeals to you – from Zouk Signature Dishes (including Spicy Prawn Cakes and Lamb Lazeez) or the Tikka Masterclass (including Tandoori Mixed Grill dishes and various tikka curries), to masterclasses that focus on vegetarian or seafood dishes. The idea behind each session is to focus on a few selected dishes, which are chosen to give people an idea of the different herbs, spices and flavours involved.

Zouk cookery school

I chose to take the Punjabi Masterclass, which focuses on a menu of dishes from the Punjab region:

Starters

  • Punjabi Lollipop: Chicken wings marinated in pomegranate and gently cooked over hot charcoal
  • Lamb Chops: Char-grilled lamb in a secret Mughal marinade

Main courses

  • Lamb Karahi: Prepared over hot flames with tomatoes, crushed peppercorns, cumin, ginger & garlic
  • Chicken Jalfrezi: Chicken pieces cooked with capsicum, onion & eggs in a thick spicy sauce

Sides

  • Pilau rice
  • Naan breads with various toppings and fillings

On arrival at Zouk restaurant we were welcomed with a warming cup of home-made desi chai tea and then split into 2 groups. Our group went into the main restaurant kitchen first, to learn how to make the main courses and pilau rice under the guidance of a chef. Because these dishes are best made as a big batch in large pots, this part of the class was like a practical demonstration, which we got involved with by adding ingredients and taking turns at looking after the pots. We picked up plenty of tips this way, and it was obvious many of us had lots of questions about the best ways of doing things. Once we’d finished on the curries our groups swapped over and we had our turn at preparing the starter dishes. This was more of a hands-on session and we all had individual stations where we prepared our chicken wings, lamb chops and marinades following the step-by-step instructions of the chef. These were left to marinate for a while before we cooked them on the charcoal grill. We then had a demonstration of how the naan breads are prepared and baked in the tandoori oven (which takes literally seconds!).

Zouk cookery school chef

Zouk cookery school starters

Zouk cookery school grill

Zouk cookery school bread

Every workshop ends with everyone sitting down to eat the dishes they’ve made and people even had their partners and friends turning up for this part, which I thought was nice (and another reason this would made a nice gift!). All of the dishes we prepared were fantastic – my personal favourites were the Punjabi lollipop and the Lamb Karahi. I was impressed with everything I tasted though and will definitely be attempting to recreate some dishes using the recipes and step-by-step guides we were given to take home.

Zouk cookery school food

The classes cost £80 and after attending this class I’d definitely recommend them for all curry enthusiasts and as the perfect gift for someone like that. Many of the people on my workshop had received their place as a Christmas gift, and all of them loved it. And what’s great is that if you are buying a gift but you don’t know which class to book your friend on to, you can buy a gift card and they can choose themselves from the course programme, which makes it ideal!

Has anyone else ever been to anything like this?

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Be inspired: summer botanical cocktails

Warm summer evenings are the perfect excuse to enjoy a refreshing cocktail, and if you fancy mixing up something a little unusual and adding a hint of nature, perhaps you’d consider adding fresh herbs to your list of ingredients and creating a botanical cocktail. I teamed up with Ness Botanical Gardens to show how herbs can be combined with spirits to create great cocktail flavours, and they’ve put together this great infographic showing the best spirit and herb pairings. It’s a handy guide to which flavours complement each other, and a great place to start if you fancy giving botanical cocktails a go.

There are even some ready-made recipes to try. I added my own vodka, strawberry and mint concoction to the list, which I think is the perfect thing for a summer afternoon. But I think the gin, honey, elderflower and coriander cocktail sounds amazing too (I love my gin cocktails!).

Botanical cocktail guide

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What I did for my 32nd birthday

It was birthday at the weekend and even though I’m making my way through my early 30s faster than I’d like, I had a lovely time celebrating with friends and family. I had two birthday gatherings, both involving cake, wine and games. Last weekend with my friends at Home Sweet Home in Manchester (by the way, if you’re ever looking for a piece of delicious cake that is as big as your head, make your way there!), and then with my family on my actual birthday.

Birthday party

Birthday board games

Home Sweet Home Manchester

A weekend birthday is the best sort, because it means you actually get time to play with your presents! I enjoyed a few hours trying out some new calligraphy pens, as well as embracing my geeky side with the extended edition DVDs of The Hobbit trilogy and this cute second hand Tolkien book.

Calligraphy brush pens

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

And me and Craig also managed to fit in a night away in a country hotel – The Huntsman Inn in the hills above Holmsfirth. As part of their Dine and Duvet package we ate a hefty 3-courses of amazing food, and enjoyed romantic prosecco and strawberries in our gorgeous room. We stayed in their Suite, and just how pretty is the décor?! Even though the weather wasn’t the greatest, it was so lovely to see the rolling hills and lambs right outside our window.

And how better to spend a birthday than eating drinking and enjoying the things you love.

The Huntsman Inn, Holmsfirth

The Huntsman Inn stay

Holmsfirth hills

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NYC-inspired dining at The Pen and Pencil

Manchester’s Mad Men-inspired bar The Pen and Pencil has a new evening menu, and last week I went along to check it out. I’ve never actually been before, but I’ve heard a lot about this place and as soon as I walked in I could see why it has become so popular. It has a great laid-back vibe and cool industrial Manhattan decor with bare brick walls and exposed metalwork. We got a great seat on a long low table with comfy wide cushioned benches, but there are also nice bright window seats and cozy booths. And the creative advertising agency theme (inspired by Mad Men) can be seen with the retro adverts on the walls, and it works really well with its location in the Northern Quarter.

The Pen and Pencil, Manchester

 

It’s a bar with a great cocktail menu, so I made sure I got to try one as soon as I arrived and I went for The Long Pink Stick which was pretty and pink (as the name would suggest). Made with gin, elderflower cordial, raspberry syrup, and Fentimans Rose Lemonade, it was extremely refreshing on a hot day.

The Long Pink Stick gin cocktail

I’ve checked out the daytime menu a few times because I work in the area, and it sounds pretty exciting. It is New York themed and covers off both brunch, with steak and eggs; avocados and pancakes; and lunch, with burgers and sandwiches. However I’d gone along to try out the new Supper menu (served after 5pm), which has small plates to share like tapas or large plates. There were around 12 options for each plate size, and even though that’s not too much choice I did still have a dilemma over what to go for. The NYC-inspired menu includes some classics – burgers; the “Buns of Anarchy” sliders (with a choice of fillings);steak and ribs, plus some quirkier options – Seafood Ceviche; Harissa Aubergine and Lobster Bisque.

In the end I went for a classic – New York Strip Steak. It came chargrilled to my liking and served with amazing skin-on-fries, a portobello mushroom and cherry tomatoes. I had a choice of sauces and went for peppercorn, which was delicious and creamy, and I was grateful to receive a generous portion so that I could dunk my fries in it. I thought this was a great steak dish – very tasty and quite reasonable at £13.50.

New York strip steak, Manchester

New York strip steak, Manchester NQ

And Craig also went for a classic – the half rack of sticky ribs. As you can see, this was quite massive, and I thought for £7.50 this was excellent value. You’d hardly need a full rack! Again there was a choice of sauces (he went for BBQ Cola) and it was served with skin-on-fries and fresh apple mustard slaw. His verdict? The meat was soft and tender, literally falling of the bone; the sauce was tasty; and special mention goes to the amazing slaw!

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce, Manchester

Overall I think this is a great venue for after-work drinks and food, and I would definitely like to come along to try their brunch as well. I can see why it has become popular and I hear it gets very busy at the weekend, but I preferred it nice and quiet as it was during our visit. I also think they should seriously consider putting together a dessert menu, because I would definitely have been up for that!

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Sunday brunch in Manchester

Brunch is quite possibly my favourite meal of the day. It’s not just because brunch food is the best food (and it really is!), it’s also because it’s the perfect time of day. Not so early that you’ve just rolled out of bed, yet still early enough to have the rest of the day ahead of you! Last weekend I enjoyed a boozy brunch date with my sister at All Bar One on King Street, which turned out to be the perfect spot in Manchester at 10am on a sunny Sunday. Considering it’s in central Manchester it’s such a peaceful location, and at brunch time it’s quiet enough that you may even be able to grab a table in All Bar One’s outdoor terrace. And then afterwards you are perfectly located to enjoy a leisurely stroll and a spot of shopping on King Street.

Brunch at All Bar One Manchester

The brunch menu at All Bar One covers everything from hot food to granola and pancakes, and of course includes avocado, which no self-respecting brunch menu can be without right now. We started off with some brunch cocktails (because, as the menu says “a brunch without a cocktail is just a sad, late breakfast”). I went for the deliciously orange Breakfast Martini, made from vodka, orange liqueur, peach schnapps, marmalade and orange juice, and my sister (who is pregnant but didn’t want to miss out) chose a refreshing virgin Mojito.

Breakfast Martini - All Bar One

Eggs Benedict - All Bar One

To be honest, the only downside to brunch is the choice you have to make – do you go for savoury classics, or something sweet and indulgent like French Toast or pancakes? On this occasion I went for a brunch classic – Eggs Benedict, and added the optional half sliced avocado. And I have to say I was impressed! The poached eggs and lemon hollandaise were delicious, and I really loved the toasted omega-3 seed sprinkle, which I’ve never seen as an accompaniment to this dish before and thought it was really tasty.

My sister went more rustic, with the Smoked Bacon Roll, which was served with sour cream and chilli tomato jam, and she added the optional extra – pan fried potato hash. As you can see this was an impressive looking brunch as well!

Rustic Bacon Sub - All Bar One

Brunch c/o All Bar One.

Overall it was a lovely relaxed Sunday morning where we enjoyed a tasty brunch as well as some rare Manchester sunshine. What do you reckon? Is brunch the greatest meal of the day?

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Restaurant review: Australasia, Manchester

I’ve heard a lot about Manchester’s iconic Australian and South East Asian restaurant and cocktail bar ever since it opened in 2011. And as I’d only ever heard good things but never got around to trying it myself, I was very excited to receive an Australasia gift card last year as a Christmas present. So a couple of weeks ago we finally went along to experience it.

Australasia Manchester

The restaurant itself is lovely. It really suits its chic Spinningfields location underneath the Armani store, accessed through a glass pyramid (which is the only part of the restaurant you can see from the street). And although it is all underground it felt surprisingly bright and spacious thanks to the lovely holiday-ish décor. Everything is in shades of white and neutral, with some of the outdoors brought indoors through bare wooden branches. In terms of seating there are secluded booths, comfy sofa seats and tables with a great view into the kitchen at the back.

Australasia Manchester restaurant

The menu at first glance is a bit daunting. However, once you know that you can dine tapas-style with a selection of small dishes to share, or traditional-style with a large dish as a main course, it makes more sense. We weren’t adventurous enough to “go native” with the smaller dishes, but for information this part of the menu includes a large selection of sushi and sashimi, as well as hot dishes from the grill. I think it would be easy to rack up quite a large bill this way as they recommend 3-4 dishes per person, but they also have a lunchtime offer of 3 dishes for £16; or 4 for £21. There is a much smaller selection of dishes available on the lunch menu but it would be a great chance to be experimental for a lower price.

But as I say, we decided to go for individual main courses instead. I went for the crispy suckling pork belly with a pineapple curry and ordered it with a side of sticky coconut rice, which came excitingly wrapped up in a lotus leaf. This was a very delicious dish, with large tender cubes of pork served in the tasty curry sauce. Craig went for the old faithful premium fillet steak, which was huge, and he ordered it with a portion of their seasoned rough cut chips, which I happily shared and thought were pretty amazing!

Australasia pork belly

Australasia coconut rice

Australasia sticky coconut rice

The portion sizes of both mains and side dishes were much more generous than I expected, and I was actually full from just this one course. We wouldn’t have needed a dessert at all, but not only had I heard great things about the desserts at Australasia, the descriptions on the menu were just too enticing.

I went for the Chocolate dome with peanut, salted caramel and blackberries, which actually proved to be a bit of a spectacular event. When the chocolate dome is brought to the table, a mini teapot full of hot salted caramel is then poured over the top, melting it open in front of you. Both desserts (Craig had the kaffir lime brûlée with pineapple sorbet) were beautiful to look at, and full of small tasty details. (They say that the dessert kitchen at Australasia is an exciting place!)

Australasia chocolate dome

Australasia lime brulee

Overall I thought the lovely setting, the dining experience and the delicious food were all worth the hype, and the size of the portions as well as quality of the food were worth the money. It’s a really stylish and unique restaurant, with a nice laid-back holiday vibe, but as it’s pretty expensive I think its one I’d recommend for special occasions.

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