Three Wine Men – or – Tipsy at the Museum

“Wine is wonderful stuff.  But so many people are put off by the snobbery of it”
John Cleese

And who am I to argue with a Python?

It’s true though.  I enjoy drinking wine but I don’t get hung up on which wine it is.  I’m as happy drinking a chilled crisp white wine in the sun as I might be drinking a heavy red wine with a steak. And if the occasion calls for a bit of fizz a nice prosecco does the job for me.

I have never been that concerned with grape variety, geography or whether the vines grew on a south facing slope at an altitude above 1000ft, overlooking a village where the locals sang to the grapes each evening to ensure they were happy!

I appreciate that all these things make a difference (well all except the last perhaps), however they have not been something I have been conscious of while having a slurp.

So when I was fortunate enough to win a couple of tickets to Three Wine Men which clinked up at the Museum of Science  and Industry, I took along no preconceptions, no airs or graces and let’s be honest no in depth knowledge of the subject.

The Three Wine Men are Oz Clarke, Olly Smith and Tim Atkin and according to their website they:
“want to get everyone in the country tasting, experiencing and enjoying new wines and discovering different foods. Their events bring together wine and food retailers and producers to show you just how much fun your taste buds can have in a day”.

So with the sun shining off I went with Mr B, (the only person I could convice to begin drinking wine at 11am)  to see what I might learn from these three enthusiastic fellas.

What we found was a room full of people all eager to try some of the 250 wines on show, match them with food from various different outlets and possibly learn more about a product they thought they knew.  In essence what we found was a cracking way to spend 4 hours on a Saturday.

I have neither the capabilty or the space here to describe the wines we tasted (there were lots) however I will pick out some that caught my/our attention:

There was food to be had from Booths, Morrisons and ASDA.  Booths in particular showing off some really tasty offerings from Mr Trotter’s Pork Scratchings to a raspberry balsamic vinegar which had summer salad dressing written all over it.  There was experimentation with apples and cheese courtesy of The Wine & Spirit Education Trust.  And there were masterclasses to attend, the one we stopped by having been excellently presented by Andy Green (Wine Buyer for Booths) on the subject of food matching and how and why different combinations work.  Turns out I really like Sherry!!

But what of the Three Wine Men?

Tim Atkin talking sense

Well we caught glimpses of (TVs) Oz Clarke, running from table to table with a cohort of half a dozen people who appeared to be trapped in his enthusiastic whirlwind.  We managed to catch a couple of talks from Tim Atkin who was entertaining, engaging and enlightening.  I’ll come back to Tim shortly. A somehwhat reduced in bulk Olly Smith was kind enough to spend some time with us and introduced us to D Vine Wines, their enthusiasm matching Olly’s and their wine in a plastic bottle actually has some significant cost and environmental savings.  I’ll let the snobs work out if it’s a seller or not but I can see the attraction in carrying around wine in a bottle that won’t break and as Greg from D Vine said “Ten/fifteen years ago there are some people who wouldn’t have drunk wine from a screwtop bottle”.  Olly then went on to give us an insight and a couple of tips for the gewurztraminer grape, so thank you to him for that.The day was a blast. Fun, engaging and nobody made us pair of wine newbies feel in any way akward, therefore tickets have already been purchased for the return trip in December.But I will leave you with a point that Tim Atkin made, which was for me, the best point of the day.  That being this –  of all the wines in the room, regardless of opinion, of price, of whether you followed all the tasting hints and tips,  the best wine is the one you enjoyed the most.

For me that was a Brazilian White wine – the Alisios Pinot Grigio/Riesling 2011 from Bibendum Wines which think ggiven the weather I could have drunk all day long!!




Longford Park Centenary 12-13th May 2012

Thanks to the Friends of Longford Park and LP100 for putting on a great weekend.  Couldn’t possibly have visited all the food outlets but it was great to see old favourites Levanter Fine Foods and Uprising Bakehouse alongside new pals Pancake Corner and Troffel Shop.  There will be more to come on these last two.

And thanks to LP100 for posting the following on their site

Centenary weekend – one hundred years old
entered the park from Cromwell Road.

Oliver’s army aint marching here
but scents of cuisine from far and near.
The sound of the band filling the air.
Sense of celebration for all to share.
Hulas got hooped, kids laughed and played.
The sun shone above, the rain got waylaid.

Centenary weekend – one hundred years old,
many more to come, their stories yet told.



BrewDog Manchester

“He was a wise man who invented beer” Plato

Well we know this chap talked some sense in his day.

So BrewDog has arrived in Manchester.  I say that like I’ve been waiting for it for years.  Like I’m some sort of rabid fan who has been foaming at the mouth in anticipation of said arrival.

Truth be told, they are a fairly new invasion of my consciousness.  Not to say that I hadn’t been aware of them – just not as aware as I now wish I had been.

Now yours truly is partial to a beer or two of a weekend.  At this point I’ll hold my hands up – sometimes an ice-cold lager is just the ticket, but lets not get confused here, lager and beer are not the same thing.  My dad and his two pals (The Three Wise Men) have often, down the years, taken trips around Manchester to sample some of the real ales and beers on offer and while I have never accompanied them on their excursions the conversations and the bottles they have acquired have always given me an interest in real beers.

So along I went with a healthy interest in what might be on offer from this new face (well relatively) on the beer scene. Well if they could make it all the way from Fraserburgh, I was pretty sure I could make it in to town!!

After a greeting from Bruce we were treated to some samples of the BrewDog Brand including the core brand Punk, Riptide and a wonderfully dark, rich almost after-dinner coffee of a beer called Dog 8.  All had unique characteristics and I enjoyed some more than others but what was most notable was the fact that they did actually have proper flavour.  Proper tastes.  Max talked us through each beer with enthusiasm and knowledge, in fact displaying the kind of enthusiasm that you just don’t get with lager.  Afterall – once it’s served ice cold it has to be said that is all much of a muchness.

There was something that struck me about the availability of Punk in cans.  Festivals, camping warm lager.  Eurgh. Festivals, camping real beer in cans.  Lovely.

My own personal favourite of the beers I tried (and I did try a few in the pursuit of fairness) was Dead Pony Club.  Now we did ask Max where the names came from – he couldn’t give an answer.  Name aside the Dead Pony Club is described as a sessional beer and at a mere 3.8% ABV but with masses of hoppy and fruity taste it is definitely one I could drink a few of. In one sitting. Often.

The place itself is a nice big open space with exposed beams and a slightly industrial feel. This leads to a great communal vibe where people mix with others they don’t know, think Wagamama or Tampopo but for beer.  The partial mezzanine floor would be great to sit with friends for a birthday if it were possible to reserve, although I don’t know if this is the idea.

The tagline for BrewDog is “Beer for Punks”. An in your face contradictory stance to the mass-produced lagers and beers that we have all drunk. They are the self-proclaimed “Doctors” to the beer industry. Now bear this in mind as I recall something I overheard in the gents “I’m not sure why they are this part of town.  Much more suited to the Northern Quarter.” said the bloke.  And it is true that BrewDog had originally  intended to pitch up in the NQ.  However that is exactly where they would be expected to be.  That is exactly where people who would already be fans would go. If you’re gonna get Punk then get up in the face of the masses.  Dare to be different where people can see you.  Don’t hide away where it’s safe.  And for this reason I am very glad they have ended up in this location.

Opposite the site where people gathered to try to better their world.  Where Bob Dylan sparked controversy over his perceived betrayal of his folk roots and where the Sex Pistols played a legendary gig to just 40 people allegedly kicking off the Punk movement.

Nae lads – I think you’re in the right place.

Wisdom comes in many forms – I’ll take mine by the pint.

Responsibly of course.


Aumbry – Prestwich

According to one definition I found an aumbry is “a wall safe or cupboard that holds blessed bread and wine”

Now, without wanting to cause any offence to the religiously minded and hopefully avoiding eternal damnation for blasphemy – this is kind of a perfect description for this little gem.

Tucked away just off the main drag in Prestwich this converted pair of terraced cottages holds within its walls some fantastic food and wine which, while it may just fall short of being blessed, is certainly heavenly.

No church like reverence or hushed tones as you open the door to a warm and friendly welcome from staff that seem genuinely pleased to be working there but also equally as excited about sharing the food with new visitors.

The intimate dining room allowed for attention to each table from any of the three-woman team that is very often not possible in larger restaurants.  However I suspect that in such cosy surroundings if there were a larger group of 8 or so diners on one table they may somewhat dominate the atmosphere in the room.

Having been seated we awaited our first taste from this newly emerging Manchester favourite.

At this point I should mention that there were no photos taken for this post.  I left my camera at home and my phone in my pocket.  In such an intimate environment it simply didn’t feel right to be snapping away.  Well that and the fact that The Hungry Mrs gave me “the look” at the mere mention.

Anyway, I digress.  Following a serving of cheese pastry puffs and homemade crisps came the bread.

I remember my mum telling me stories of dripping butties and how nice they were.  Now, I put this down to post-war rationing , I mean surely butter just ticks all the boxes here? However, when our waitress removed the lid from the warm pot and declared “….and this is beef dripping” I was immediately keen to try it.  It was like having the best roast beef sandwich without the need to chew!!  Just goes to show – mother knows best!

But “man cannot live on bread alone”

The amuse bouche of wild garlic and potato soup with English truffle oil did exactly what it should in leaving me wanting more.  Next came the beautifully presented starter of wild rabbit terrine with rabbit consomme. liver parfait and sloe jelly.  The taste and texture surpassing even the appearance.

With a pause before the main course we were able to enjoy the wine.  A Xarel.Lo DO Albet i Noya which was delicious, light and fruity, “I can taste apricots” exclaimed The Hungry Mrs but without being too poncey this was actually one of those wines where you could identify individual flavours.


The main course………

Milk-fed Cumbrian lamb.  Now I will be honest. When I read milk-fed my immediate reaction was that there would be a lack of flavour.  However I was happy to be proved wrong.  Although not the strong taste of lamb that I am used to, both cuts were sweet and melt in the mouth tender.  They were also, in keeping with every other dish, wonderfully presented with spring vegetables, white onion puree and pink fir apple potatoes.

On to dessert.  What to try? We had both overheard our neighbouring table discussing with relish the grapefruit posset but when our waitress informed us that she had incorporated the treacle tart into her wedding cake we were sold.  I mean that had to be some tart and with accompaniments of Earl Grey cream and lemon jelly the sweetness of the tart was perfectly balanced.

Aumbry is now reasonably well established and I regret not having visited earlier.  However while chatting to the team we have almost certainly been convinced to return to try the 9 course taster menu.

As stunning as the food was/is, it is the warmth and enthusiasm of the of the staff at Aumbry that will remain with me. Afterall even the most blessed of food could not have me coming back if I did not feel welcome.

Thanks to all at Aumbry for a lovely meal.


Levanter Fine Foods

From the mountains of Spain to the hills of Lancashire.

I did not mean to write this post. Yet here I am. Writing.

I’m not complaining though, in fact, quite the opposite.  I am very happy to be writing this post

So I’ll crack on.

Levanter Fine Foods, a husband and wife team from Haslingden – the “Valley of the Hazels”, notable for quarried stone and “The Big Lamp” but not, you’d think, for quality Spanish produce.

But this is exactly what Joe & Fiona Botham are sourcing and sharing with us.

I first met them at Turton Tower near Blackburn during that little hot spell we had (remember it?).  The sight of a full ham glistening in the sun while being expertly sliced by hand was certainly enough to pique my interest and grab my attention. This was their Serrano Curado Bodega, cured for 14 months 3,000ft above sea level by artisan producers. The heat of the sun made the meat sweet, tender and after a sample both myself and The Kitchen Assistant were hooked.

So home we went, returning to The Hungry Mrs with ham, a morcillo sausage and some Manchego Gran Reserva to savour in the sun with some fresh bread and a crisp white wine.  The morcillo was simply fried off and the combination of sweet ham, creamy cheese and hot spicy sausage was absolutely spot on.

The next time I saw the duo was in Preston.  TKA instantly spotting the ham and standing doe-eyed by the stall, reminiscent of Dickens’ Oliver awaiting “more”.  Cheeky as ever but Joe was happy to oblige.

Chorizo was the order of the day and the Bothams talked me through the different varieties and helped me to choose which would work best for a batch of Chorizo Stuffing. And once again they were bang on.  The stuffing being used this time in a loin of pork for my mums birthday.

The last meeting was at Accrington Town Hall for the Lancashire Food Festival.

At this point I would like to point out to them and you that I am not stalking Levanter Fine Foods – promise.

And so – as I approached the stall this time there was something different.  A rugby ball shaped orangey-red mass that I didn’t recognise. I was patiently but enthusiastically introduced to Sobrassada.  After a sample my limited powers of description came up with “mmmm – it’s like a spreadable chorizo” but I’ll stick with that. Apparently it is a favourite simply spread on some toast and placed under the grill but I am yet to try this.  Instead – off I went with my portion without really knowing what I was going to do with it.

After sleeping on it I decided I’d use the Sobrassada to offer a slight twist to the common all garden scotch egg.

So having tried a variety of their products I can honestly say that I am a fan.  The Serrano Curado Bodega would be enough to keep me coming back but all of those I’ve tried have been delicious and somehow imbued with an authenticity that is almost impossible to replicate.  But products aside, Joe and Fiona are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and a pleasure to chat to.

Now I just need to catch Joe playing the guitar!!

Normally I’d say good luck to them at this point but with goods like these it isn’t a matter of luck.

So if you’re out and about in the Northwest and happen to catch the name Levanter at a food event then get yourself over to their stall and tell ’em The Hungry Manc sent you.

But stop for more than just a sample – OK?

Via con dios,


Beans doesn’t have to mean Heinz

I don’t like baked beans.

Never have. Now this is, I know, somewhat surprising.  There a very few of us out there who aren’t a fan of the things.  Chuckle if you like but we can feel a little left out!!

I can’t really put my finger on why I don’t like them.  I used to think it was a texture thing.  I was never too keen on the way that beans would mush up in my mouth. However as time has gone on this has become less of an issue and has been replaced by a dislike of the watery, sweet but otherwise tasteless sauce that the beans are drowned in.

So how to overcome this problem?  Afterall, I’d love to be able to get home after work and in 5 minutes have a tasty, nutritious snack of beans on toast in front of me.  Or cook myself a big weekend breakfast without having to forego the option of beans .

The best solution I could find was to bake my own beans – somewhat obvious, I know but sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees; and when browsing any supermarket or local store there seems to be forests of tins of baked beans.

By making my own I was also able to flood them with flavours I like. So armed with strong smokey bacon, lashings of Lancashire Sauce and a good helping of mustard powder I set about attempting to reverse a lifelong held opinion about beans.

As a starting point I again visited The Lone Gourmet (see blog roll) and adapted the recipe I found there for Boston Beans to suit my own tastes.  If you want to know exactly what I did click here.

And the result?  A thick, flavour filled sauce, lovely soft beans and a feeling that I could finally join the party!

So what to do with the beans? Well there was no sense in over complicating anything, so beans on toast anyone?  And on a day when the weather had returned to its wintery worst a few spoonsful of beans atop some thick granary toast smothered in butter, absolutely hit the spot.

Now, not being something I buy I cannot tell you the price of a tin of baked beans.  However this large batch was put together inexpensively and the comment from a friend,

“I’m not sure I could go back to eating Heinz baked beans again.”

made any extra pennies spent very much worth it.

I DO like beans – and made like this I always would have.  Looks like I’ve got some missed easy lunches and quick snacks to catch up on.

Ta tah


Already Infamous

“I’ve got poetry in my fingertips.” Charlie Sheen

Awaken the senses
Loosen the belts.
Meat from the grinder
Or rib meat that melts
Suicide sauce
To give it a kick
Fries that are winning
And fingers to lick
Move over pretenders
Out the way!! Let them pass!!
Unctuous burgers
Simply kick ass!

“It’s genuine. It’s crystal and it’s pure and it’s available to everybody, so just shut your traps and put down the McDonalds.”  Charlie Sheen

And don’t get me started on the Chillidogs and Cocktails

“WTF?”  click here

Pie Week Part 2

“When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven.  It might be a trick, but if it’s not, mmmmmmm boy” Jack Handy

So, National Pie Week is over. Time to stop making and eating pies.

Yeah, OK. Nice try.

The latter part of the week was unfortunately hindered by a spot of illness, so I am sadly going to have to break my promise of a pie something nutty. There was also an issue with sourcing the chief ingredient – but it will happen. Stay tuned………

But what would be the something sweet? Having put the feelers out as to what  people enjoyed the resounding winner was Rhubarb.  Perfect.  Then an idea from Michael Wilkinson (follow him on twitter @chefmichaelcw) quickly followed. Roast the rhubarb with some star anise, a cinnamon stick, a vanilla pod and a good handful of sugar. So I did.

Following the apparent success of the goat pies, I again decided to opt for individual pies. Large for an individual serving but the folks at work didn’t seem to mind!

Served up with a good vanilla ice cream, which is always a great contrast to a hot fruit pie, they didn’t last long.  For the non-pastry fans in the office there was the option of a broken meringue filled with vanilla cream and topped with peaches and rhubarb syrup.

This was a bi-product of making the pie filling.  Excess liquid from the roasting was kept, sweetened further and reduced to thicken.  It was one of those things that was never in the mind to create but on seeing the excess liquid with its gorgeous pink colour there was no way it was going down the drain!!

Some of the syrup has been frozen and is to be saved for a warm evening when it can be added to a long drink or, if I follow more of Michael’s advice, to a shot of vodka.  Either way it’ll be a lovely addition and in saving it I was glad of the days when I used to watch my mum whenshe was cooking and nothing was wasted.

So pie week has come and gone.  But it’ll come around again next year.  That gives us 51 weeks to experiment with other fillings!!!

Time for a pasty…….


Pie Week Part 1

“A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn’t like pie when he can see there isn’t enough to go around” Edgar Watson Howe.

I am no hero.

Pies are great. The only way to overcome the problem highlighted above is to make sure there is more than enough to go around.  That way there’s always seconds!

So British Pie Week is upon us. And several ideas came to mind at the start of the week. The first was a hot-pot pie made with my mum’s leftover hot-pot.  Scuppered by the fact that the original hot-pot was too good and there were no leftovers.  Second, The Hairy Bikers Cheese & Onion Pie, one which I have made before and it is always tasty.  The only alteration I made was to add a little more cayenne and mustard as I like the extra kick.  I will also confess that I used shop bought pastry as I am rubbish at making the stuff – my hands are too warm apparently.

Finally I purchased some goat meat to put in a pie.  I had no real idea what I was going to do with it but was rescued by The Lone Gourmet who provided a recipe for a Greek style goat stew. This recipe was pretty much adhered to aswell, little bits of tinkering included the tossing of the meat in seasoned flour to help thicken the sauce and the addition of one green and one red pepper to help bulk it out.  I was working with 500g of goat meat so the rest of the ingredients were upped accordingly. In an effort to keep an eye on the liquid levels I cooked the stew for three hours on a very gentle heat on the hob.

So then it came to the constructing the pie.  And it dawned on me……….

Why not make little individual pies?  I had been wanting to try this for ages. That was it.  With my pre-made pastry to hand I set about greasing 8 dariole moulds then lined them with the pastry and placed in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.  The tops were brushed with plenty of eggwash and the cases filled with the goat stew.  Pastry lid on and pressed firmly in place.  Lots of eggwash brushed on top, couple of little holes for the steam and whacked in the oven at about gas mark 5 for 25 minutes.

This gave me just enough time to pour an ale and contemplate what I was doing.  If Greek style pies were a good thing, why didn’t I see them anywhere?  Why had I guaranteed my colleagues to have their lunch for them the following day? Would the darn things come out of the moulds? Should I stop eating the remainder of the delicious stew before I burst?

25 minutes of nervous pacing later and the familiar “Ding Ding” of the timer went.

The oven door opened, my nose filled with the aroma of fresh pastry and goat stew.  My eyes were greeted with the golden brown tops of the pies.  So far so good. 

The pies were left overnight and then transferred to work.  After 20 minutes or so in a low oven to warm through they were turned out and shared with colleagues, one of which had never tried goat before. 

I am happy to report that the pies were very well received and I thank The Lone Gourmet again for the idea.

Now as we all know Greece is having a few problems at the moment, but I have taken steps to get this idea over there and you just wait and see if the economic recovery doesn’t take place soon after.

Stay tuned for more pies – something sweet and something nuts. Oh and stay outta Greggs.


And on the Eighth Day……

“Vegetarian – that’s an old Native American word for lousy hunter” Andy Rooney

I jest of course.

Although I have never really contemplated becoming a vegetarian I am also the person who generally doesn’t even consider the vegetarian option when out and about.

And out and about I was, having booked the day off work on Friday and risen in the morning to a beautiful spring day I decided to take a mooch into the city centre.  Is mooch a Macunian thing? Do others mooch?  If you’re unfamiliar with mooching it is essentially having a wander with no particular plan or destination in mind. Meandering through streets well trodden with no place to be or time to be there.  Trying to look up and around instead of head down and marching.  And this bright, crisp morning was perfect for a mooch.

So with nothing on my mind and my phone in my pocket I went into the city centre to see what I could see.  While sat having a coffee at FYG on Tib Street I sent a text to a friend of mine who studies at the University to see if they would like to meet for lunch.  Sadly they weren’t in town but recommended the Eighth Day Cafe.

Now my immediate reaction was probably quite dismissive but after my meat-eating friend spent several minutes waxing lyrical about the place they convinced me to try it.

Mooching was done. I was hungry.

I arrived at the place I had walked past so many times before over a number of years.  Down the stairs, trying to avoid direct eye contact with regular patrons just in case I should be recognised as an interloper.

There was a Dahl, a Thai Curry and a Veg Lasagne to try so I opted for the last of these with a portion of salad.

Tentatively I tucked in.

Incredible.  None of the dodgy meat substitutes which tend to make me screw my face up.  Just good honest food in a lovely, relaxed and friendly environment. In fact the friend who recommended it put it much more succinctly:

“Aye it’s alright. Proper lunch and no bollocks!”

So although it’s highly unlikely that I will ever fully convert, it is very possible that you may find me at least pausing over those dishes that have a little (v) next to them on the menu.

Mooch on.