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Best (And Worst) Dishes Of The Year

Schofield And Sowerby, Allan And Gordo Choose Their Faves

Written by . Published on December 20th 2011.

Best (And Worst) Dishes Of The Year


Well, let’s stay in the North West for the time being; apparently I’m only allowed three choices. Let’s go in order of when eaten.

First off, a salad in Australasia (click here) when the young New Zealand chef was there, before he buggered off for some reason. I am assured it wasn’t because Tim Bacon had a cardiac arrest when he got a bill for the wild, edible flowers that were being used. Out of season.

Dishoftheyear Salad

It was an historic work. Drew Smith, the ex-Editor of the Good Food Guide, one of the three best food critics in the UK (and no, AA and the little bearded one with a famous Dad aren’t included), taught Gordo that the best way to tell a great chef is by the peripherals to the main course. Starters and the like. A salad, for example, is hugely difficult to get right time and again: this one was perfect.

Drew Smith is now on the team at LondonConfidential.com. Read him and salivate.

Next up a raspberry cheese cake at The Hideaway (click here), underneath the more famous Ramsons in Ramsbottom. A bit like Pippa to Kate. It pipped Naz’s (the chef upstairs) steamed orange marmalade pudding with custard to the post, a sexy little beast in its own right. The cheese cake showed Lu, the chef whom Chris Johnson, owner of Ramsons, discovered making meat pies in the post office down the road, to be arguably the finest self-taught pastry chef in the North West.

Dishoftheyear Cheesecake

Finally, carpaccio of beef with truffles in Cicchetti (click here), luke warm, tasting of heaven and smelling like something the Devil would be wafting up the nose of anyone standing in the middle of the desert having not eaten for forty days. You’d have to be Jesus to say no.

Dishoftheyear Cicchetti

Oh yes, Southern 11, the oddly billeted American southern states restaurant in Spinningfields.

Gordo would (and does) go back for the buttermilk fried Goosnargh chicken thighs with creamed potatoes and white gravy. Let’s not go into the fact that the seasoning on the crunchy fried exterior is perfect, or the chicken timed to perfection. Or indeed, the silky creamed potatoes are lush. Let’s not… Oh, fuck it, take Gordo’s word, it’s the most comforting dish in Manchester. The real hangover cure.

Away from the North West Gordo's favourite dish was one he'd thought a PR exercise by Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck. It was the snail porridge, you can read my full review HERE. The snail dish summed it up, a fantastic, brave, wonderful piece of work. It's one of those mixes which surprised and delighted. Deconstructed French snails in their shells, with parsley and garlic butter, but here with porridge oats, earthy Jabugo ham and topped with paper thin strips of fennel, giving a great aniseed background.

Dishoftheyear Snail Porridge

You can follow Gordo @Gordomanchester 


My Manchester and area favourites begin with the two way spring lamb from new boy Rose Garden (click here) in West Didsbury. It came with simple but perfectly timed broccoli, carrots and asparagus, but the skill lay with the beautiful herb-crusted rack of lamb. The latter was a piece of rare skill that lifted the dish very very high. A real class act this from the chef patron at the Rose Garden, William Mills. 

Dishoftheyear Rose

Something a bit sturdier was provided by the steak and cowheel pie in the Mark Addy. This even got the resident court jester of Manchester Confidential, Sleuth, writing a bad poem in its honour (click here).

Chef Robert Owen Brown really pulled out all the stops in his search for the rugged essence of Lancashire with this dish. Beautiful pastry, lovely meat-rich innards with that jelly-sweet, mineral-packed, bit of heel as well. It’s also got a personal dimension as it was a dish I recommended to Rob as one my mother would cook on dark Rochdale nights - the Mark Addy version hits the nail perfectly on the head.

Chef Anthony Fielden up in the Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar (click here) surprised me on a hot day in autumn with two bits of combo cooking. I could put either a starter of sweetbreads with lambs leaf and salsa verde or the main of plaice with brown shrimps and capers in my top list. I’ll go for the plaice as this sets a trend for the end of the year: direct, elegant French inspired cooking.

Dishoftheyear Northern

The plaice was magnificent. The flesh was dainty and yet robustly present. The caper beurre noisette (clarified butter gently browned and bolstered with capers) was a dream complement to the dish. The samphire had me dreaming of rockpools on Atlantic facing beaches. 

Then came my new favourite restaurant, 63 Degrees (click here) on Church Street. This is a proper Frenchie with the kitchen led by Eric Moreau. It has clear, astute and clever cooking and has so many good dishes I don’t know where to begin: snails in parsley butter, the baked eggs, the tuna loin...

But the chicken breast with the gratin dauphinois is a joy and comes with a lovely, lovely morel mushroom sauce that, with its aroma, is like a childhood memory of falling back into a pile of autumn leaves. It’s earthy, connected and right.   

Dishoftheyear 63

Gordo’s done Cicchetti (they have provided consistently the best ensemble of dishes in 2011). So I’ll leave that and memories of very special food such as, tagliatelle con castagne - chestnut flour tagliatelle with chestnuts, porcini and truffle oil. And he mentioned Australasia, which delighted my tastebuds with a cannon of lamb with hickory aubergine, edamame and wild herbs (see the dish behind Gordo's fave salad in the picture above). Finesse, top presentation and big flavours all on one plate.

So I'll finish with a late, late entry, the pigs cheeks with Dijon mustard in Aubaine (click here) in Selfridges that I reviewed at the end of November. The flaking flesh of the cheeks, the mustard and the cabbage and sweet carrot veg were all perfectly timed and prepared.


Aubaine 034

Damn, I’ve not mentioned any puddings or desserts such as the mille feuille at Aubaine or the mango soufflé again at Australasia but now I’m cheating by recalling so many dishes, so I'll leave them.

I'll carry the dessert theme over to next year and maybe do a countdown in January of the twenty best in the Manchester area. Maybe we should do a coach tour going between them all. Get some Sauternes thrown in for good measure.

As for outside Manchester.

Well there was superb stuff in Blumenthal's Dinner, some gorgeous nourishment in Marcus Waring at the Berkeley both in London.

But I'll return to French cooking and the simple heart of food. This is when everything is right with the world, the mood, the view, the company and then the food comes and there's nothing wrong with that either. So I choose a tartiflette with Reblochon cheese, with bacon, potatoes and salad, in a Chamonix restaurant the name of which I forget, with sunshine, Mount Blanc as a backdrop and dancing para-gliders above our heads. 

Easy does it just as well.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield @JonathSchofield


 MY favourite lunchtime of the year was spent sitting at the bar in Mayfair’s groundbreaking Pollen Street Social and wondering how Jason Atherton could conjure up such flavour in a main of Yorkshire partridge, plum jam, kale and compressed apple. New Year resolution, the a la carte there. Pollen Street Social, 10 Pollen Street  London W1S 1 (020 7290 7600. Click here 


In Manchester I was sorry Ian Armstrong at Vertigo missed out on both Newcomer and Best Chef in the Manchester Food and Drink Awards. I liked (on several occasions) his simple but beautifully judged lunch menus and the sensory overload of his a la carte. Best dish? A certain Seafood Nage. Not quite soup, not quite sauce, definitely piscine. Seared fleshy scallop on crisp-skinned seabass (line caught in the Ribble estuary by a father and son operation, none of your Greek farmed) sat in a nage dense with citrus and saffron, baby onions and leek strands gave an added vegetable sweetness of their own. Vertigo, 36 John Dalton Street, Manchester M2 6LE. 0161 839 9907. Click here 


Nothing in Britain, though, could compare with the astonishing 10-course tasting menus (Cheater Neil, that's really cramming in the choices. Ed) of Austrian wunderkind Simon Taxacher, chef/proprietor at the two-starred Hotel Rosengarten  in the Tirol. Just a sample of Simon’s French Med influenced cuisine: St Pierre and Coquilles St Jacques sauteed, jellied cucumber; deer, raspberry, pignolia, milk skin; goose liver, gianduja bitter chocolate, granny smith; elderberry-foam kiss, sweet woodruff. Better even than Simon Rogan at L’Enclume and each tasting menu was completely different! Even Frog's Legs (pictured) were exquisite. Hotel Rosengarten, Aschauerstrasse 46. 6365 Kirchberg in Tirol. Austria. 0043 5357 4201-50. Click here  



A plate of pearl barley risotto with Lancashire cheese croquettes was a high point in my dining calendar this year. It was the first day of spring and myself and Neil Sowerby were having lunch at The Aumbry, a restaurant in Prestwich offering around 50 covers. Filled with photographic portraits and shabby sideboards, there were bowls of roses scattered about, while food was served on delicate ceramics. Surrounded by natural light, everything came together, and this dish summed up Mary-Ellen McTague and Lawrence Tottingham’s minimal yet flavour-full cooking style perfectly. Taking traditional British ingredients (such as barley and cheese) and re-presenting them in contemporary configurations is one of the talents which has seen them win awards like Best Chefs at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards, as well as commendations from national food critics and the Good Food Guide. I expect many more will follow in 2012. 2 Church Lane, Prestwich, M25 1AJ. Tel: 0161 798 5841 Click here 

Dishoftheyear Aumbry

My favourite out of town experience was at the Zetter Townhouse cocktail lounge in Clerkenwell. It’s a sumptuous space, full of mounted deer heads, worn carpets, and the kind of higgledly-piggledy furniture you find in stately homes. My sister and I grew up in the tropics and this environment, with its portraits and antiques, not to mention chess sets and old books reminded us of colonial haunts we explored as children. Needless to say, the cocktails are extraordinary. Designed by mixer of the moment, Tony Conigliaro, they’ve got magical names; Les Fleurs Du Mal, Nettle Gimlet, Fig Leaf Collins. I had The Flintlock (£8.50) crafted from gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, home-made dandelion and burdock bitters and Fernet Brancaxx. With a smoky scent and crisp, pastel hue, it epitomised the buttoned-up yet decadent spirit of times gone by. The Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John’s Square, London, EC1V 4JJ. Click here


And The Worst Dish Of The Year


There have been some shockers, but the stand out worst 'dish', the thing that most takes the complete piss out of us as consumers of food, is the sandwich shop called Eat. Normally quite good as it happens. But, its clear to Gordo that no-one in the top echelons have ever had a bacon sandwich. If they had, they would know that the bacon has to be of a good quality, crispy at the edges, with some best back and some streaky. It needs to served on great white bread, which has to be buttered. The thing about a true bacon buttie is the mix of the fats, the taste of pigginess, the crispness of edges lending texture. Oh my, a thing of great beauty.

The Eat effort? Shocking. Gordo, for the first time ever in his life threw a bacon butty in the bin. The bacon was that weird streaky 'smoked' but with no flavour streaky, the stuff that Americans use. But here done badly. It's dropped onto possibly the worst muffin, well its not even a muffin, Gordo has ever eaten. It may as well have been a small pillow sliced in half with this utterly crap bacon shoved in the middle. THAT WASN'T EVEN CRISPY. No butter. Listen Messrs Eat, if Gordo, or indeed any of his readers, wants to go on a health kick, he will choose your (not bad) porridge. But don't mess around with a bacon sandwich. For serving this utterly banal pice of banalness the directors of Eat need to be made to walk up and down the high street naked while scourging themselves with hawthorn branches.


Dishoftheyearnot McR
Everything about the Saturday evening meal I had at laughably named MCR Restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel in Manchester was wrong - click here. I have nothing to add about the worst bit of the worst meal I had all year. So to quote:

‘Then the fish pie arrived priced at the extraordinary sum of £15. It was truly shocking.

‘It came with a chedder cheese mash and a lot of farmed salmon. We probably got the whole farm. One piece was the size of a fist. There were also about three lonely prawns and one centimetre cubed sized piece of swordfish, otherwise it was a salmon party.

‘Here's a question. What was going on in the kitchen that they thought that massive piece of salmon was acceptable? Here's another one. Why did they think it was fine to send out this 1970s' school-dinner mash in a dishwater sludge of salmon and liquid and think it was ok? Have they no pride? The fish pie was a watery piss-take. For fifteen pounds.’


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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Neil SowerbyDecember 20th 2011.

The Zetter's restaurant, Bistro Bruno Loubet, serves some of the best French food in London (or Paris) too. Another eye-opening out-of Manchester experience.

food for thoughtDecember 20th 2011.

Did somebody try the peanut butter cheescake at Bar and Grill onm John Dalton street?

MaggieDecember 21st 2011.

Glad that Ruth has spoken up for Aumbrey, what a gem that place is! Fabulous food and excellent service, it's definitely worth the tram fare out of the Metropolis to have your taste buds well and truely tickled. ...........and talking (as Ruth did) about traditional British food, they served us beef dripping and bread in between courses - heaven! Not had that for years!! x

reddevilDecember 21st 2011.

Well done Gordo, Schofield, Sowerby and Allan. The MC reviews are excellent and invaluable. Keep them coming! Happy Christmas to you all.

RevaulxDecember 21st 2011.

Sorry: read that as "simple but perfectly tinned broccoli"...

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