Posts

Inside the Diablo SupperClub

The devil’s in the detail… Diablo SupperClub

Diable supperclub 14

Wednesday night saw us turn up to Chorlton’s inimitable North Star Deli, on Wilbraham Road, to enjoy a taste of the Diablo SupperClub. Not, as you might think at first, a meeting of gastro-occultists, but instead a chance to learn something about Casillero del Diablo wine while enjoying fabulous food.

Yes, those cunning vintners at Concha Y Toro have hit on the ideal way of giving people greater confidence pairing food with wine: bring a liquid roadshow direct to a selection of the country’s finest supper clubs. This was their first venture north of Brighton or London, so of course Mr North was more than happy to help raise a glass in support. My other half is half-Chilean, and we’re partial to a drop of South American reds at the best of times, so this was an invite I didn’t think twice about accepting. After all, what could be more fun than being educated in the dark arts of the grape, while enjoying top-notch food? They’ve got a great blog online, (incidentally this month’s guest blogger is our favourites, Niamh from Eat Like a Girl, who even mentions our take on her exceptional Spiced Beef recipe) and a bunch of user-submitted recipes, which should be good to provoke some fresh ideas in the kitchen.

Diable supperclub 12

It’s incredible to think it’s been almost a year since we attended the first pop-up restaurant at North Star Deli, one of my favourite independent eateries in Manchester. Where did the last 12 months go? In the last year their Join Us 4 Supper nights have become a regular occurrence on the Manchester food scene, showcasing the best of local, seasonal food. Chef Deanna Thomas continues to set the menu and head up the kitchen for each event, whilst the deli has recently expanded to a second location, this time in the city centre. A great tip for a really good breakfast, lunch or fabulous coffee if you’re in the Piccadilly area!

January has a habit of being the grimmest, greyest month (personally I think that’s February… when you want winter to be drawing to a close and it’s tenaciously determined to stay put) and this was the first temptation to eat out since the New Year. Hospitality from the staff at North Star was as warm and welcoming as ever, and as good guests we allowed ourselves to be graciously plied with canapés and bubbly… the perfect start to any evening. First up, an intriguing savoury macaroon, which paired smoked salmon and a citrus-cream cheese inside light macaroons, dusted with poppy seeds. They looked delightful, and were soon followed by rabbit empanadas (following the South Amercian theme), which disappeared faster than a fluffy tail down a rabbit hole. Just right with a delicious dry, crisp glass of Brut Reserva Chardonnay.

Diable supperclub 3

Our resident wine expert for the night, the spendidly-named Hans Joachin Wadsack (or Joe, as he answers to) won over the assorted dinner guests in no time with his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm. This laconic raconteur raptly held our attention with some background on the vineyards, terroir, and production methods of each of the wines we were due to sample that night. That, plus the wonderful smells wafting gently from the open kitchen, cranked the anticipation up to tangible levels in the room.

First course was a trio of plump, tender and perfectly seared King scallops. They sat daintily on a bed Puy lentils cooked in a creamy Chardonnay sauce, finished with tiny roasted tomatoes and (I think) a dash of basil oil. It takes a certain kind of determination to try and snare every last lentil on a plate (preferably doused in that wonderful buttery sauce) but I managed it, and looked up to find everyone else’s plates were empty too: a room full of happy diners.

Diable supperclub 5

We each had a glass of Chardonnay, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the dish: for me the Chardonnay was more harmonious, complementing the subtle ocean flavour of the scallops and butteriness of the sauce alike. A good example of how cooking and drinking the same wine in a dish can really pay dividends. Sure, it felt slightly decadent to sit with two glasses of wine at each serving, but I kept telling myself it was purely for educational purposes!

The aroma of the main had been wafting out of the kitchen for as long as we’d been sat down: I ‘d (wrongly) guessed at beef, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that wonderfully meaty, heady aroma was venison. Mmm, venison. Proper winter fare… and it had been a couple of weeks since our venerable venison pie, so were suffering withdrawal symptoms. Joe introduced the reds which were to accompany the main –  a Shiraz, and a Carmenère – both paired to compliment the food. My predisposition was towards the Carmenère – I love its soft, spiced notes and it’s a bottle I already regularly buy – but the Shiraz was also balanced, fruity, and worked well with the dish.

Diable supperclub 7

Deanna introduced this particular venison as being sourced from red deer – good to know as there’s no legal requirement to disclose what kind of deer your venison is from – and this haunch had been marinading comfortably in a delicious bath of Cabernet Sauvignon for the previous day, ready for cooking. And cooked it was, to perfection: pink flesh gave just enough under a richly caramelised dark exterior. Venison can be a bugger to cook, but this was spot-on: rested and rich without being overwhelming. Add that to an oh-so-rich red wine sauce, some savoy cabbage, and a wintery Hunter’s pie (think Shepherd’s Pie, but with an earthy celeriac mash topping and venison filling) and you have a stellar seasonal selection on a plate.

Finally, we got introduced to the dessert wine – the Casillero del Diablo Late Harvest – which is a newly introduced line in the UK (so new I couldn’t even link to it on their website). I don’t really do dessert wines, but every time I get persuaded to try a dessert wine with an appropriate sweet, I remind myself I appreciate the combination more than I think I do. This was no exception: the dessert was an Blood Orange tart, which quivered and shivered coyly on the plate. The mix of sweet and bitter riffed brilliantly with the concentrated, rich flavour of the wine, and added a welcome burst of late summer sunshine to the dark environs of south Manchester.

Diable supperclub 9

Thanks to Briony and Joe from Casillero del Diablo for the wine and wisdom; Deanna, and Ben in the kitchen for the fantastic food; and smiling service from Adam, Jenny and the rest of the staff. A really great night, with plenty of sparkle, humour and gastronomic pleasures!

Diable supperclub 11

I should also mention that Ben, the chef at North Star Deli, is one third of Team ‘Northern Stars’ on BBC2’s food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘, alongside myself and SJ from Porcus.  We got on so well together that North Star Deli and North/South Food will be teaming up for next month’s ‘JoinUs4Supper’ on February 23rd. We’re hugely excited about this, and will be announcing more details very soon!

Diable supperclub 10

Gastroclub Pudding 5, Football Nil

I attended my first session of Gastroclub earlier this month. This particular session was at the Market Restaurant, and promised not one, not two, but five desserts with a historical bent. A wee bit excessive, you say? Not a bit of it, we thought as we headed off to the city centre on a Tuesday evening, intrigued and excited by promises of exotic heritage desserts. It’s not often you get to mix history and food on a school night…

I’d heard of the Market Restaurant over the years, a long-established restaurant in the Northern Quarter, but I’d had never visited before. It manages to combine a touch of the old-fashioned British restaurant, mixed up with a souçon of bodega and a dash of quirky kitsch charm (we liked the randomness of the mix-and-match crockery).

My companion and I were greeted at the door by Katie Brunt, the effervescent organiser and host of Gastroclub which she’d started after discovering there was a dinner-sized gap in the market for like-minded foodlovers in Manchester. Katie explained numbers were down because of the United vs. Chelsea match that night. I’ve come late to Gastroclub (perhaps due in part to not actually living in Manchester these days) so we couldn’t tell whether the 30-odd folk in the upstairs restaurant were representative of a normal turnout or not. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and there was an obvious crowd of regulars.

We took our seats after being given a glass of fizz, met some fellow diners and ordered drinks. I was impressed by their beer selection, but somewhat less so by their prices: my opener of a bottle of Worthington’s classic White Shield was over £6, a significant ask even for a stunning IPA. Katie introduced the owner, Gary, a man whose passion for food and history was evident, who explained that the Market had run their pudding club ‘Sweet Meets’ for over 20 years. We would start the puddings with a recipe from the inimitable Elizabeth Raffald‘s book ‘The Experienced English Housekeeper’, one of Britain’s earliest best-selling cookbooks. This luminary of the literary food world settled and worked in Manchester, so it was an appropriate start to the pudding fest.

Before the pudding onslaught we had a simple light main course of Beef Stroganoff (very nice) and boiled potatoes. Despite this being good fare neither we nor anyone else seemed to overfill their plates: everyone was focused on the task ahead of the five desserts, and had no idea what to expect and how much room to leave.

Dessert 1: Elizabeth Raffald’s Orange Custard
This, it had to be said, was not a particularly attractive starting plate. A delicately-coloured shivering splodge was presented plainly on a plate, like a pale posset ectoplasm. I’m not sure, given the lighting in the venue, whether this was actually imbued with any colour from said oranges, but if it had been served in a porcelain tub I could’ve mistaken it for facecream at first glance. Perhaps the designer in me craves more ostentatious presentation. However the flavour was subtly pleasant : creamy, just sweet enough and delicately citrus-like. I rather enjoyed this, despite it not being much of a looker. Thumbs up for course one. 4/5

Dessert 2: Osbourne Pudding
Quite a contrast with dish two. This was warm and much heavier than the orange custard. It was lightly spiced, a bit like a bread & butter pudding with dried fruit. I love bread and butter pudding and have no qualms about eating it, although it felt odd to be doing so in the confines of a restaurant rather than at home in the depths of winter. Our table suffered from a momentary deficit of custard to offset the natural dryness of this pudding, hence lots of beer-drinking and muttering about inappropriate appropriation. Calm, and masticular moisture was rapidly re-established with the appearance of a replacement gravy boat of custard. Verdict: warm and hazy childhood memories stirred up, but perhaps not a foodie feast dish for a spring evening. 3/5

Dessert 3: The ‘Bees Knees’ Cheesecake
This looked the part for a posh pudding, and expectations were high. Cheesecake’s always welcome here, and I’d like to have known more about the provenance of this dish. Isn’t the bee’s knees one of the those expressions from the 1920’s which suggests superlative quality? Perhaps this self-confident title helped to raise expectations, however my companion and I were less overwhelmed than we’d expected. I found the filling more sweet and cloying (I’d suppose the name alludes to a high honey content?) than I like in a cheesecake, and the base was a touch too thin and soft compared to the benchmark cheesecakes of my youth. In the end the narrow slice was more than enough for my taste buds, and reminded me of that hoary old chestnut when being offered tea. “No ta, I’m sweet enough as it is”. 3.5/5

Dessert 4: Hannah Glasse’s Carrot Tart
This was definitely the course I was most intrigued by when the invite email went out. Carrot cake is wonderful. Carrots are orange and sweet and these features alone should make for a fantastically interesting dish. Even more so when it’s taken from Hannah Glasse‘s 18th century classic ‘ The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’. Perhaps I should’ve more keenly observed the word ‘plain’ in that book’s title.

There was a touch of unintentional comedy as everyone bar myself and another unfortunate chap sat next to me tucked into their slices of carrot tart: we’d not been served and we watched as two lonesome plates sat unattended at the far end of the room. So by the time we’d managed to attract the attention of the waiting staff the rest of the table had tasted, and in some cases pushed away their portions, with ambiguous phrases such as ‘sausage roll’ and ‘odd’ being bandied around.

When I tasted the tardy tart there was a definite ring of truth to the above comments: the pastry was on the savoury side and felt a bit… well, lardy and the filling was inoffensive but slightly odd. Like a very mildly granular dessert quiche, which isn’t an appealing concept, I grant you. I’ll put this down to the gustatory tastes and trends from the eighteenth century translating poorly for us more modern folks. At least I finished mine, enjoying the small and rapidly melting dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. However this was not something I’d willingly try again, when I know how much more enjoyable carrot cake can be. Shame. 2/5

Dessert 5: Pear and almond crumble
By now slight pudding fatigue was starting to set in. Ideally it would’ve been the time to end with something extraordinary, smooth and light, like a sorbet or the mysterious ‘dark chocolate pots’ which had been promised on the notifiying email. However the closing curtain was provided instead by a pear crumble and cream. This was perfectly okay in its own right, but was neither bold nor light like I’d been hoping for, and was indeed rather wan. It really needed a boozy double cream, or some bold flavours to riff off the almonds and pear. Cobblers. 3/5

The winner, as judged by the Gastronauts at the end of the evening, was the “Bees Knees” cheesecake. Although wasn’t my favourite, it was by far the most popular, perhaps because it was the most contemporary of the desserts on offer… or at least the one most people would grab off the sweet trolley.

All in all it was a rather fun and silly night… starting with a cab driver who couldn’t comprehend anyone would be more into food than football, and ending with (slightly delicate) hugs at the end of the evening. You have to be careful hugging anyone who’s just eaten five desserts. Thanks to all the staff at the Market Restaurant, and to Katie for organising the event. I’m looking forward to the next Gastroclub, but I’ve reminded myself how I prefer savoury to sweet these days. Let’s hope the next one is equally exciting and unpredictable, but with a more piquant menu! You can follow @TheGastroClub on Twitter.

Suffering fools gladly…

gooseberry_fool-01.jpg

I was recently chatting with Miss South about the relative dearth of gooseberries for sale; prompted in part by a recent episode of the Food Programme about berries. We both loved gooseberries straight from the garden at our granny’s… the slightly peculiar texture (a little hairy and seedy like pomegranates or tomatoes) and tangy flavour was unlike anything else, and distinctly seasonal. A highly evocative memory of childhood.

An occasional treat, and one which brings back deliciously happy memories, is that of gooseberry fool. Thick cream and fruit, served in glass dishes during halcyon summer weather conditions in the countryside. In my mind’s eye, heavenly. The fact I’ve not had this dessert for so many years has undoubted contributed to a little rose-tinted spectacle wearing on my part, but also led me to crave enjoying this unctuous creamy delight all the more.

So when I saw a couple of punnets in Tesco (I’ve been scouring the markets but haven’t seen any for sale anywhere else) I pounced on them. The particular variety was touted as being sweeter and more suited to desserts than normal, and they had a slight ruddy glow to their green translucency. I was all for following a straightforward recipe for fool, but skimming through the ever-dependable Leon Cookbook I noticed they suggested pairing gooseberries and elderflower, which sounded like a wonderful match. They also suggested mixing greek yoghurt with double cream to create the creamy base, which I thought would add a touch more tang and bite to the flavour. As with all good recipes, it provided a helping hand rather than a restrictive straightjacket… not least as I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand in the correct quantities.

First the fruit got cooked down in a mix of water and sugar (a bit less sugar than Leon had suggested as the variety of berry was supposed to be sweet) and then cooled down. A couple of tablespoons of elderflower cordial got added to the mix (my homemade elderflower liqueur is still brewing away although I’d like to try this again with that once it’s ready). I used roughly a 2-to-1 proportion of double cream to natural yoghurt, then whipped the mix until it got as close to that ever-smirkworthy state of ‘stiff peaks’. The fruit was then folded into the dairy mix, squashed and smashed but still ostensibly whole. This proved to be much better than creating a smooth compote, as it made for a contrasting texture sensation. After dividing into bowls and bunging them in the fridge overnight I was able to enjoy a decadent breakfast course… light, creamy, tart, sweet and so moreable. Yum!

I’ve always liked the British predilection for fools, flummeries, blancmanges, syllabubs and other traditional dairy desserts. These haven’t totally faded from public culinary consciousness, but receive far less attention than they should. I urge you to rediscover the delights of fruit fools as they’re so damn good, and wonderfully easy to make.

Buckfast sorbet…

Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, ice… it’s Buckfast sorbet!

Buckfast may be made in the bucolic countryside of Devon, but its spiritual home is Scotland and Northern Ireland. A bottle or two of ‘Buckie‘ on a night out is a rite of passage for under-age drinkers when growing up either side of the Irish Sea. So it made perfect sense that since Mister North and Miss South are half Scottish, but raised in Belfast they would rise to the challenge of using up the leftover tonic wine from Burns’ NightRead more

Second-degree Burns

Two chieftains o’ the pudding-race

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a Burns’ Supper for a couple of friends. It was a very last-minute affair, and was never intended as a faithful rendition of the rituals associated with celebrating the bard. More an excuse to get together with some mates and enjoy some good malts with a side order of offal and tubers… Read more