Wednesday, February 27, 2013


So just the other day I wrote up our experiences of Aumbry as our first taster of fine dining.  Well we didn't have to wait long for round two because just two days later we packed our bags and sodded off to Cartmel in the Lake District to try out the highly regarded and two Michelin starred restaurant L'Enclume.  We had learnt much about L'Enclume from various sources including our fellow bloggers, watching owner/chef Simon Rogan winning big on The Great British Menu (coincidentally including one of my all time favourite on screen meltdowns) as well as oddly enough a venue for an impression of Ray Winstone.  There were three characteristics of L'Enclume that we had drawn from those diverse sources which were that the food was experimental, the ingredients were foraged where possible and the restaurant/service was fancy.  We were off for another new experience with the same mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety that I had faced prior to our trip to Aumbry.

First of all Cartmel, even without a trip to L'Enclume, is an absolute treat.  A tiny picturesque village that sports a couple of really nice pubs, a lovely deli/post office, the odd gift shop, a fantastic micro brewery and a seriously serious cheese shop all tucked away in the mountains of Cumbria populated with people that are happier than your average Joe, presumably because they get to live in Cartmel.  What a great start!  It didn't take us long to find the delightful age old converted smithy sitting next to a tiny river which was, once again, populated by ducks that looked happier than your average Joe.

Through the door we went for our 1pm booking.  Straight away you realise that the property has only roughly been converted, there is still exposed brickwork and pipework is visible alongside the absolutely gorgeous furniture, ample collection of rocks and ad hoc modern ornaments which are housed in the four walls.  The layout too betrays the fact that this building was never intended to be a restaurant, there is a small bar area, a larger dining area and then a wonderful, light and spacious conservatory with views of the river, the garden and the imposing Cartmel Priory.  As it was a fine day we were seated in the conservatory which I misleadingly labelled as spacious, it does feel spacious but at the same time it does only contain 6 tables, it is a contradiction of itself, it feels cosy and private at the same time as being a little bit communal, there were many moments when we interacted with the other guests which I will come to later on.  Anyway we loved the bricks and mortar as well as the relaxed atmosphere.

Once seated the gent who was running the front of house approached us and took us through the menu options explaining that if there were any dishes or ingredients that we were not keen on the kitchen would be more than happy to prepare something else for us as we wished.  This was thoroughly unexpected and confounded another of my expectations that fine dining menus would be inflexible, that (allergies aside) you would get what you were given.  I must say at this point that the gent was probably the most likeable and friendly waiter I have ever met, from the moment we walked in he was cracking jokes and making us feel at home whilst at the same time never compromising his professional demeanour.  He spoke with supreme confidence about the food and it's provenance as well as handily rolling out funny anecdotes left, right and centre. Apparently their forager is called Mr Tickle, this is funny in itself.

While we pondered the menu we enjoyed a gin and tonic each.  We had asked for a 'ginny gin' and that's definitely what we got.  The Bedrock Gin produced locally and utilising the springs of Cumbria for its water was really ginny.  I think ordering a ginny gin and tonic before every meal featuring adventurous flavours will become a new tradition, it's a really good way to kick things off.

We decided to go for the 6 course menu for £35 rather than the 19 course for £95 which seemed far too extravagant.  I think the plan we always had was to go for the smaller menu and if we loved it we could go back another time for the mega menu.  Kicking off the proceedings was a Cod 'Yolk', Sage Cream, Pea Shoots with Salt and Vinegar.  The apostrophes around 'Yolk' may have given it away but I can confirm it was not a yolk despite its distinct similarity visually, once it was burst a delightful, runny fish sauce escaped on to the plate and engulfed the puffed rice that it sat on.  It was a nice way to start the meal, quite a subtle flavour and soft textures all round combined with an intended punch of nostalgia for us as the dish triggered memories of salt n vinegar Chipsticks. I'm sure that's not quite what Simon Rogan was going for but it didn't matter, it added an element of fun that we really enjoyed.

As soon as the amuse bouche was dealt with a tray of bread rolls and salted butter arrived.  There were 3 different rolls, molasses, onion and thyme and one with a distinct ale flavour.  They were all very nice and fresh, even when picking at them towards the end of the meal the rolls had kept a little bit of their warmth.

The next course was Westcombe dumplings, vegetable broth, beetroot and winter shoots.  The broth is poured at the table, this little bit of theatre ramped up the excitement levels by one. This really was one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever had the opportunity to cast my eyes over, I don't believe the super rich colour of the broth is captured in the photo below, it has to be seen with your own eyes.  The flavour was not as striking as the presentation, it was a very subtle blend of earthy flavours, absolutely nothing in the dish overpowered any of the other elements. Jules confidently proclaimed that she would attempt this dish at home, I wasn't too sure about this and after finding out how the dumplings are made I became significantly less sure that a home cook could come anywhere close to this.  The only thing I would say that could be a slight negative about this dish is that the broth could have been a little bit hotter although saying that the supremely delicate cheese dumplings probably would have disintegrated at any higher temperature.

With the warm broth settling nicely in our bellies the next course arrived in the shape of Valley Venison, Charcoal Oil, Mustard and Fennel.  At this point I let out an 'oooooh' as the menu had not let slip the fact that the venison was being served raw.  I was a little unsure of this but this doubt was quickly displaced with my first mouthful of venison, I've never tasted meat so delicate and fresh before.  The whole dish tasted like Spring, it was a triumph.

This was the first point in the menu that Jules received a different dish, the pescatarian option consisted of Artichokes with Goats Cheese, Tarragon and Malt.  I didn't hear much complaining from Jules about this dish as it was quickly dispatched.  The presentation was faultless, the artichoke skin had been cooked to a nice crispy texture and the pool of goats cheese, much like everything else, was fresh and delicate.

We were all back in the same boat for the main course as we all received Butter Poached Hake with Mussel Cream, Grilled Carrots and Brassicas.  There isn't much to say about this dish apart from the fact that it is far and away the best fish dish I have ever tasted and I believe it all comes down to that cooking method.  Now for starters do not think that butter poaching is one step away from deep frying, it isnt, it is in fact a really healthy way to cook a bit of fish as the butter is clarified so it retains flavour but not fat.  The end result is a fish that actually looks a little translucent inside but again do not fret, it is cooked through but it is beyond delicate.  Before moving to the next course we politely declined a visit from the cheese trolley as we were a little full at this point, sadly we were absolutely full of REGRET when the cheese trolley made an appearance for the table next to us.  We couldn't keep our eyes off it as it majestically rolled across the dining room floor issuing a blend of cheesy fragrances.  We (and everybody else in the room) were so obviously rubber necking that when the guest was asked to pick a cheese he loudly proclaimed "perhaps everybody else could tell me what they would have picked?".  The whole room laughed, it was a lovely moment.

We were in to double dessert territory now and the first was Sea Buckthorn, Buttermilk, Liquorice and Butternut.  The elements were arranged in three quenelles topped by a tuile.  It was a nice way to present this dish as it allowed you to play with different combinations of elements in different quantities on the spoon.  Very nice but not my favourite dessert of the day, that was up next.  Saying that this was Jules' favourite dessert of the two, she absolutely loved it.  I had ordered a plum sake to accompany my desserts, not because I thought it would be a good match with the sweetness of the desserts but just because I am always interested in sake in all its forms. The one thing that did make me laugh though is that the sommelier took my order, brought the drink over and then told me he thought it was probably going to be a bad pairing.  That might have been more useful advice prior to getting the drink but it didn't matter anyway as it wasn't a bad pairing, I still really enjoyed it and the odd timing of the advice made me laugh rather than niggled me.

The final course was Rhubarb, Yoghurt Mousse, Hazelnuts and Sorrel.  Now normally I am not a big fan of rhubarb in any of it's forms, be it crumbled or fooled.  I can take it or leave it I suppose. Well I certainly couldn't leave this!  I have never tasted rhubarb like it, sweet and soft and tender with a beautiful pinkish hue to it.  Even without the other elements on the plate the rhubarb was a sensation on its own.  Apart from the sorrel syrup, the other ingredients of hazelnut and yoghurt were fairly traditional accompaniments but the dish did not suffer for it.  Absolutely fantastic.

And it was done.  No more.  Finito.  Finished.  Nope, we couldn't accept that so we ordered 'coffees and sweet things' from the drinks menu.  The 'sweet things' turned out to be a Kendal mint cake ice cream atop a disc of aerated chocolate.  It was a very traditional and non experimental bit of food to end the meal on but that doesn't mean it was any worse for it or that it didn't receive the same care and attention that any of the other items received.

Then it was definitely over, we had a final conversation with the man who knew everything, paid the bill and we were off out in to the brisk almost freezing air of The Lake District.  Again just like Aumbry the meal had felt like it moved rapidly but it was never rushed, the end result is that it feels like it whizzes past and you struggle to go back and remember everything.  We spent the next couple of hours playing over the meal in our heads trying to articulate all the different flavours and experiences trying to decide on favourites.

You may have noticed that I have used the word 'never' and 'ever' quite a lot in ths write up and that is because the meal was so full of new experiences for us and the quality was of such a level that these words have to be used.  I had never had a meal like this before.  Most of the dishes were the best I had ever had.  I don't want to use the word 'perfect' but it can't be far away from that, maybe the best phrase to use is 'almost faultless'.  Even that isn't really fair though because the 'faults' aren't really faults, just elements that I wonder could be better another way, I could be completely wrong so they aren't really faults are they, they're just 'wonders'.  The common thread that links all the dishes was that they all tasted fresh and this must be in no small way down to the methods applied to obtaining the ingredients through foraging and local production.  I must also say that this is an absolutely ideal restaurant for vegetarians as at no point is meat or fish the focus, it is always a balancing act and the vegetarian dishes are celebrations of all that is great about vegetarian food.

The restaurant is a fantastic set of pleasing contradictions, new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, formal and relaxed, delicate and strong, private and communal.  This was a very special meal and we will be going back for the 19 course menu later in the year once we have allowed this experience to settle in our memory.  I don't see how it could be any better but I'm willing to give it a go.  So another high end restaurant that breaks down my preconceptions and delivered a warm and welcoming experience.  Where to next?

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cinnamon Buns

Half-term holidays are always a great time for me to catch up on all my housey jobs, including of course getting some proper baking done. However, with there only being me and Bailey around here it always seems a shame to bake up a storm if it's not going to get eaten. This is why I like being joined by super dooper young ladies who enjoy baking as much as I do but who have plenty of cake-loving friends and family to feed.

So on Tuesday I had a baking date with the lovely Eilis. Unfortunately fate was unkind to us and Kat's holidays fell on a different week to ours meaning she couldn't join us (no matter, we decided we would whip her up a batch of Oreo and Marshmallow Chocolate Cupcakes as a belated birthday gift). As I know Eilis is already an expert baker and she doesn't need me around to make amazing cakes, so apart from the aforementioned cupcakes, I thought we could turn to something a little more adventurous: bread. On the menu for the day was a Rosemary Focaccia, Jamie Oliver's Pizza and Cinnamon Buns from the Primrose Bakery.

Ever since the day I received my Primrose Bakery Book I've been waiting for an excuse to whip up the Cinnamon Buns - not only do they sound absolutely delicious but the ladies from Primrose clearly think these bad boys are a big deal as they've dedicated something like four pages out of the book to mouthwatering pictures of them being rolled up in their cinnamonny deliciousness. My first taste of a similar cinnamon treat at And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon only sealed the deal - these beauties had to be made.

Baking the Cinnamon Buns was lots of fun. Not only do you get to make a really cool, messy sticky dough (which Eilis kneaded expertly, using up probably most of her elbow grease supplies in the process), you then get to roll that dough into a long thin sausage shape with your bare hands. As Eilis was my guest I know I should have let her roll the sausage up all by herself but I just had to join in, it looked so much fun.

Unfortunately an error on my part - namely mistaking a bag of demerera sugar in the pantry for a bag of dark brown sugar - we didn't have quite the right ingredients but maybe that would be our selling point for our super special Cinnamon Buns with a bit of extra demerera crunch.

As always baking with Eilis was a pleasure and I hope that her family and friends enjoyed their Cinnamon Buns! They certainly looked and smelled pretty awesome!


For the buns:
275g lukewarm water
5g dried yeast
4 tbsp granulated sugar
600g strong white bread flour
1/4 tsp salt
175g milk
75g butter, room temperature

For the cinnamonny filling:
250g demerera sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
125g butter, melted

For the glaze:
3 tbsp gooseberry jelly
3 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180 degrees C and prepare a large baking tray by lining with baking paper. Add the lukewarm water to a jug and add the yeast plus one of the tablespoons of sugar. Stir well and put to one side.

Meanwhile, take a large mixing bowl and sift in the flour. Also sift in the salt and the rest of the sugar.

Take the butter and add to the mixing bowl and stir well until combined. This may take a bit of the old elbow grease.

In a saucepan, heat the milk up until just hot to the touch (don't burn it like I did then have to do it all over again!) and add to the mixing bowl gradually, stirring after each addition. Also add the yeasty mixture from the jug and stir. This will make the sticky, messy dough I was on about.

Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands up also and knead the dough for five minutes before leaving it to rest for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can make the cinnamony filling by mixing the sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together in a bowl.

After the 10 minutes has passed, roll the dough out into a big, thin rectangle.

Smother the top of the dough rectangle with a load of melted butter. 

Then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mix evenly over the dough to the corners.

Then, starting from the top of the rectangle, roll the dough down towards you to make a long sausage. Lots of fun! Once the sausage is made and all the filling is safely enclosed, dab the bottom edge with water to secure the edge of the dough to itself.

Then, cut the dough into 5cm lengths making little swirly rolls. Place on the baking tray and leave to rise again for half an hour or so before putting in the oven for around 30 minutes or until golden brown.

While the cinnamon buns are in the oven, mix the gooseberry jelly and water together for the glaze.

When the buns are fresh out of the oven, spoon the glaze over the top of the buns. A breakfast treat, or for any time really!

Monday, February 25, 2013

New Menu at Mughli

Many people who read this blog or who have mentioned Indian food in our presence will know that our favourite Indian restaurant is Mughli. It serves fantastic food and drinks. It has excellent staff. It's funky and modern. It's a breath of fresh air on the Curry Mile. We only discovered this restaurant less than a year ago and have been die-hard fans ever since. We've now been back a few times, be it for a consistently fantastic dining in experience or, when we were lucky enough to live in walking distance, to pick up a lovely Friday night tiffin box.

Since moving to Levy and settling in to the new house we hadn't been in to our old favourite in a while but continued to sing its praises to anyone who would listen. It was safe to say we loved it and we loved it just the way it was. So imagine our intrigue to receive an email from the boss Haz inviting us and a selection of other lucky Mughli fans in for a sampling of their new menu.

"New menu?!" You could hear us cry. "How could Mughli possibly get any better?" We couldn't wait to find out. On our arrival we were greeted at the door by the usually friendly staff and were pleased to see that as expected, even though it was an ordinary Wednesday night, Mughli was packed with people and there was an excited buzz in the air. We were soon joined by Haz himself who took us all to our table and explained that he was going to be giving us a slap up sample selection of food and cocktails from the new menu and all he wanted in return was our feedback and a donation to WaterAid. Stuffing my face AND helping charity. Brilliant stuff.

First of all I really must say a quick word about Haz. I really think he must be one of the best restauranteurs in the North West. Our first burning question for him was why the need for a new menu, when Mughli was already clearly by far one of the most outstanding Indian/Pakistani restaurants in Manchester? He told us that his priority when taking over the restaurant a few years back was to take the same old favourites people know and love that his competitors were making, and surpass them... Well, check, he succeeded in that without a shadow of a doubt. Now to stage two of Haz's plan. With his huge following of faithful customers and a great reputation under his belt, Haz can now continue to cook the best Indian food in Manchester but introduce a whole host of exciting new dishes, elevating his restaurant from staple favourite to culinary destination. Certainly a man who won't be resting on his laurels, I for one will be keeping a close eye on what he is up to.

I believe one thing we may see from Haz in the future is a restaurant with an even bigger focus on the drinks. This would be awesome as Mughli's cocktails are fantastic. Throughout the night Bailey was treated to an array of original fruity cocktails featuring all the sunshine of India and Pakistan you could humanly bring to Manchester using liquids alone. Having decided to bring the car, I was a bit gutted about missing out, until I was brought a lovely selection of non-alcoholic beauties.

Onto the food. In case any fellow die-hard Mughli fans are reading this and panicking, although the menu has changed a fair old bit, it still has all the little touches that made Mughli so ace before. If you fancy a change from their (still brilliant I assure you) papadums, they are now offering baskets of beautifully light multicoloured Far Far - kind of like an Indian prawn cracker to be dipped in a sweet, spicy red pepper dip. We all agreed these were a much more sociable alternative to the traditional papadum as they could be popped into the mouth while keeping up a good conversation or slurping on a cocktail.

For papadum purists, do not fret, they are still as good as ever and are now accompanied by no less than six amazing chutnies. We loved them all but if we had to choose favourites they'd probably be the Chilli Tamarind Sauce and Garlic Pickle.

Bang on trend as usual, Mughli's menu now also features a 'Street Food' section including spicy Railway Chicken served in a cone, crispy and light Onion and Spinach Bhajias, delicious vegetarian Spinach and Cheese Tikki and flavoursome pan fried Chicken Livers.

My personal favourite street food was the Samosa Chaat. Having only recently discovered the wonders of Panipuri, I was very excited to see that what was on top of my "deconstructed vegetable samosa" was very similar to the toppings I'd had on my first Panipuri - that lovely mix of the yoghurt and tamarind sauce with soft chickpeas and crunchy aloo bhujia was incredible. This was almost certainly the best samosa I have ever had.

Onto the curries and before we tucked in Haz unapologetically stated that everything on the new menu is 100% authentic right down to the very non-British Khada Masala sauce served with the Chicken Tikka Masala (absolutely delicious, I know because Haz very kindly got me a little bowl to try without any chicken in). I absolutely love this attitude - Haz has confidence in his menu but also has confidence in his punters that they will want to try something new.

One dish Haz was really keen for us to try was the Chukkandar Gosht - a brightly coloured lamb curry with a vibrant beetroot sauce. This has to be the most interesting dish I've ever eaten in an Indian restaurant (again I got a nice pot of sauce to try!) and both Bailey and I absolutely loved it. I think this will be a bit of a love it or hate it dish as a few people on our table weren't sure about it but again, I admire Haz's confidence to put something like this on the menu.

Now onto my hands-down favourite dish of the night. I know Haz wants people to come to his restaurant and try a load of new stuff every time but I can't see how I will ever be able to set foot in Mughli and not order one of these bad boys - the Mushroom and Mixed Vegetable Dhum Biryani. Now I know what you're thinking. You can get a biryani anywhere. I always used to order biryanis as a teenager because I didn't know what anything else was but even I got over them and haven't ordered one in years. Well, let me tell you this is no ordinary biryani. First of all there's the wow factor as soon as it arrives at the table thanks to its creative presentation in one of Mughli's signature metal pots with a naan bread baked right on top like a pie crust. Amazing. Cut open the magic naan pie crust and you discover perfectly cooked rice with a delicious sauce layered through, getting hotter and thicker as you reach the bottom of the pot. On the side is a beautiful biryani sauce and a beetroot raita, all cooked to Haz's mum's family recipe. Frankly, this was amazing and I couldn't stop eating it which meant I nearly had to be rolled home like a greedy biryani-filled ball.

You've gathered I was feeling uncomfortably full so you'll have to forgive me for only trying a spoonful of the beautifully presented cardamom infused 'Tootia' Mango Firni. I never normally order desserts in an Indian restaurant, usually because all that's on offer is ice cream served in a Punky so all the times I've been to Mughli I've never thought to look at the dessert menus. I will be doing so in future, in fact I don't know how long I can resist going in for a portion of the amazing sounding Apple Samosas.

So, a fine introduction to the new menu at Mughli and we're so pleased that Haz invited us to try the new food. We had an awesome time, met some absolutely lovely people (it seems people who like Mughli are ace unsurprisingly) and apparently a decent amount was raised for WaterAid. We think there are some very exciting things going on at Mughli at the moment so if you haven't been since the menu change we urge you to go and try the new stuff. If you've never been before, what are you still doing here? Get yourself down there this instant!

Mughli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 24, 2013


We decided to start writing our food blog just over two years ago now and I would say that prior to writing the blog we had been heavily into food since travelling in South America about four years ago, but we had always enjoyed cooking food at home and eating out.  Now since writing the blog our desire to learn about the culinary world has grown and grown and grown and in some ways this was satiated by reading a bunch of cook books, watching a load of foodie TV shows and probably most productively conversing with fellow bloggers and food fans both in the digital world of Twitter and in the real life world.  As we learnt more we wanted to experience new things and attempt more ambitious home cooking which I believe we certainly have whilst not forgetting about the first love of our lives cheap eats and simple vegetarian food.  What this all leads us to is an area of food that we have previously not sought out because we were too happy in our previous comfort zone and that area of food is fine dining.

It's probably all my fault, I am the pickiest of eaters and I am the most anxious of formal restaurant service.  As a result I think we probably put fine dining to one side, we would happily watch the world's most famous chefs knocking together miraculous plates of food on telly safe in the knowledge that we would never get to try it ourselves either because we didn't think our common palates would accommodate the exotic and intense flavours we knew existed as part of these dishes or we simply never thought we would have enough bunce to pay the bill at the end of the night.  I think the real fear was that we would pay a lot of money to eat crazy combinations of flavours presented using super wacky techniques in an unwelcoming and stiff environment.  Which wouldn't be fun.

Putting all of this to one side (with some lingering fears still in my mind) we set foot in a highly prestigious eatery just this week in the shape of Aumbry.  It was an easy choice for us to pick Aumbry as our first steps in to fine dining, it is located just up the road in Prestwich, the menu is inspired by the more comforting elements of local produce and cuisine, it had been very well reviewed by some of our favourite bloggers and the Tuesday tasting menu is undoubtedly brilliant value.  As backup we also took two friends who know their stuff when it comes to fine wine and top class food, if we were to commit any faux pas then they would have our back.

The route we took for the brisk walk to the restaurant from the tram stop was not a glamorous one and did involve us navigating between the Biffa bins behind Iceland but this may have been bad luck on our part.  It didn't matter though because the freezing temperatures (combined with my panicked decision not to wear a jacket) meant the brisk walk was almost a full on jog and so before we knew it we were swooping through the door in to the warm glow of the Aumbry dining room.  Coats being hung up (I just stood there shivering while this was happening) the waitress advised us that it was customary to pop upstairs for a 'cheeky' drink prior to eating.  We happily obliged.

The restaurant itself is a converted cottage and so doorways, beams, floors, stairs and windows are all nestled together in a refreshingly higgledy piggledy fashion.  On this dark evening the majority of light was coming either from candlelight or the harsh lights of the open kitchen pass, this was ideal for setting a lovely mood but not ideal for taking snaps so apologies in advance for a couple of dodgy images.  That said we really liked the environment and that combined with a really warm, friendly welcome from the staff put us in good spirits.  While perusing the menus a glass of cucumber water was delivered to our table along with a little plate of cheese gougeres.  The water really helped to cleanse your mouth but in itself was quite a tasty refreshing drink and the gougeres was a perfect little appetiser that disappeared all too quickly.  Sadly the Lambicus Blanche wasn't available so the gents had to take one of the more pedestrian bottled beers from the menu, it was a little surprising that there weren't more interesting local ales on offer when the wine list was so exhaustive and spanned the globe.  As we were taking up the excellent offer of paired wines for the tasting menu the ladies didn't want to dabble in wine and so went for a refreshing Aumbry Fizz, a simple concoction of sparkling wine and sloe gin.

Drinks still in hand we giddily toddled back downstairs to the dining room and were seated slap bang in front of the kitchen, now some people might not have liked this as the light is a little harsh there, you are in a little bit of a thoroughfare and can hear/see the vast majority of goings on in the kitchen.  Obviously we are massive nebheads (people who enjoy nebbing or being exceptionally nosy) and so we loved sitting there keeping out beady eyes on every morsel of food that was being manipulated by head chef and owner Mary-Ellen McTague in the small confines of their kitchen area.  Something quite unexpected happened when we sat down.  As our friend Beth sat on her chair there was a loud clattering of wood and she leapt back up to discover that a chunk of it had fallen off the bottom, not the leg but one of the supporting poles.  Heads were turned and eyebrows were raised by a few of the patrons but we were pretty giddy at this point and so all we could do was laugh.  The waitress was alerted who responded with sincere care for her well being first before joining us in seeing the funny side of it which was really really endearing, a new chair was sourced pretty quickly and we got on with our meal.

The amuse bouche consisted of a clever combination of delicately cubed root vegetables served alongside a super smooth savoury cream topped with the freshest of herbs.  I couldn't tell you exactly what was in it as a curious symptom of these tasting menus is that they fly by and even by the end of the meal your brain struggles to reconcile the wild variety of flavours and ingredients that you have consumed.  I can tell you that it was very nice and did it's job proudly setting us up for our starter.  While I am making confessions I may as well say that I also will struggle to walk you through the paired wines that accompanied each dish, suffice to say that each wine served was an excellent partner for the associated dish and even to my untrained gob they stood out as quality wines.

Following on from the amuse bouche was a small plate of freshly baked bread accompanied by warm dripping.  Now I had already enjoyed this as part of a great dining experience at the The Beagle (who not coincidentally worked with Mary-Ellen's husband Laurence Tottingham on the development of their menu) so I was prepared for a real treat.  I don't really understand the process of making good dripping, in my head it is a very simple technique that leaves little room for failure or excellence.  Well Aumbry are definitely doing something different because their dripping was outstanding, the richness of the flavour very nearly blew my head off.  I should also mention that the bread and butters were also absolutely amazing, the whole thing was so good it tempted Jules off her vegetarian perch to eat the meat by-products with the rest of us.  I've been proved wrong before but now I would like to firmly say that I don't think bread and dripping can get any better than this.

On to the next course of Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg with Tomato Ketchup and Mushroom Relish.  Black pudding is always a little bit of a gamble for me, if done badly it can be very dry and one dimensional.  Not so here.  It worked as both a hearty protective shell for a delicate runny egg yolk contained within as well as the delicious flesh hidden itself by the super crispy breaded exterior.  I didn't need anything further as there was plenty of flavour contained within and it was certainly not dry but the relish and ketchup were a welcome addition which could be added or excluded from each mouthful.

Jules was following the pescetarian menu and so she received the Home Smoked Mackerel, with Roast Celeriac, Pickeled Beets and Mustard Cream.  Somebody else had already put it in my head that Aumbry's smoked mackerel looked like a slug and I couldn't argue with that once it arrived, especially with the addition of a small saddle.  In all honesty, like everything else, the dish was beautifully presented.  Jules' eye lit up with every taste of this plate, the fish was delicate, the rye bread was super crunchy but not just there for texture as it had its own distinct flavour, the mustard cream added another dimension and Jules wanted particularly to point out how well the wine was matched.

The Field Mushroom Soup with English Truffle was up next.  I've eaten soup before but I've rarely eaten it in restaurants, there always seems to be something more exciting happening elsewhere on the menu, the best soups I have ever experienced have either been homemade soups that are very rustic or those served as part of set menus further afield in Europe or South America.  I've had good soup before but I've never ever had soup this good.  The texture was unbelievable, people say food is like velvet but this soup must have had the rich textile substance as its primary ingredient, it was so satisfying.  The flavour was sensational, very rich but never sickly or overbearing.  I could have drunk a vat of this.  Our friend told us that days later she would think of this soup and it would make her smile.

The main event appeared shortly after the soup bowls had been cleared, we were happy to see that the Slow Cooked Milk Fed Goat with Fresh Goats Curd, Cauliflower, Barley and Scotch Pine was a close relative of the dish Mary-Ellen had prepared as part of The Great British Menu which had aired just last week.  The GBM version of the dish went down well with judges and fellow chefs alike and this similar dish didn't disappoint.  It has a very earthy appearance which isn't any kind of trick as the dish itself is a very comforting combination of flavours and textures, the goat surprisingly being the most subtle element as it melted in the mouth.  The crunch of the barley was a little abrasive but not in a bad way, it gave the dish a real bite and all the other flavours clung to the barley, it seemed to be the central part of the dish.  A brilliant plate of food and not insubstantial in any way, a really worthy main course.

Jules' menu once again diverted to a pescetarian option in the form of Poached Hake with Red Cabbage, Radish, Clams & Mussels.  Jules said this was an absolutely gorgeous dish from beginning to end, each element was lovely and light with just the right amount of crunch in the cabbage.  The only weakness was that the wine pairing of a Riesling was the least appropriate of all them, it overpowered the subtlety of the rest of the dish and so it was put to one side for a few minutes and enjoyed afterwards.

We started the meal in a giddy fashion and spirits were still high, each dish brought an exciting new contrasting set of flavours so now we were heading in to the home straight we didn't want it to end.  A cheese board was offered and we snapped it up to share between us, we didn't want to over indulge but we wanted more of those fine flavours!  The cheese board was brilliantly put together, each cheese really had its own character and with the more than generous chutney dollops in the middle of the board you could move between them without it turning in to one big mixed cheese taste.  The highlight for me being the Brother David's which we would be tasting again just a few days later and can be ordered from the lovely people at Cartmel Cheeses.

There was one more magic trick up the proverbial sleeve of Aumbry in the shape of a Grapefruit Posset with Celery Granita and Sherbert.  Possets along with grapefruit flavours are once again, like the traditional soup, not normally something that comes close to blowing my skirt up but by eck Aumbry managed to knock my socks off.  The first taste is the spoon of sherbert which is hoofed in to your mouth before you tuck in to the posset.  The two layers of posset are divine, the granita was crunchy and refreshing and a huge contrast, when combined, with the creamy, almost custardey, grapefruit posset hidden beneath.  Its worth mentioning that Jules adored the presentation of this dish in the tea cups.

Unfortunately at this moment we realised there was a real and present danger of us missing our last tram of the night meaning the aforementioned Iceland owned Biffa bins would become our shelter for the night.  As a result we had to pay the bill, grab our petit four and jackets before running off to get the tram.  A slightly undignified end to the evening but we were still on a high as we ran through the frozen Prestwich streets that it mattered not a jot.

Let me just sum up the food.  On this night I enjoyed the best soup I had ever tasted and the best bread and dripping I had ever tasted alongside dishes that would easily rank as some of the best food I have ever tasted, there was not moment when I thought the food was anything short of fantastic.  The consistency of quality was astonishing and with each dish I found myself thinking "I wish I could just carry on eating more of this" only to take it back when the next plate arrived.  Accompanying this fine food was a really great selection of fine wines, as I always say I'm not a wine expert but I can still appreciate good pairings, for me they didn't put a foot wrong with the wines.

I haven't mentioned the service that much yet, possibly my greatest fear within fine dining is that the service is stuffy and that means I can't enjoy my meal no matter how good the food is.  I am happy to say that Aumbry have three of the best waitresses I have had the pleasure to meet.  They all struck a great balance between being professional and knowledgeable while at the same time coming across as genuinely wanting to put you at ease and make sure you have a great time, they weren't afraid for their own personalities to come out which made them so much more human than any of your gruff hipsters usually found in Manchester or your chain restaurant workers passively following a well learnt script.  Now I do have to mention that Aumbry also had a fourth waitress on the floor who wasn't as much of a delight to be served by.  She looked distinctly unhappy to be there (Jules has informed me that I am not allowed to use the phrase 'face like a smacked arse' so I will refrain) and even snapped at us when we asked a question about the wine while she was still pouring it.  She didn't take the shine off the evening I just have no idea what she is doing there along side those other great human beings.  The only other blip service wise was that they really struggled to deal with one of our friends dietary requirements of a mild nut and dairy allergy.  Only one alternate dish was offered, the rest was just the same dishes with the absence of the dairy/nuts (so incomplete in my eyes) and one dish was even served with the dairy by accident with the waitress skipping over to inform us once David had already started tucking in.  Oooops.  Neither of these two hiccups really damaged our enjoyment of the experience but are probably things to watch out for in the future.

So our first steps in to fine dining couldn't have gone any better.  None of my worst fears were realised, the environment was warm and friendly, the food was familiar and comforting with just a real step up in sophistication and actually this was one of the best value meals we have ever eaten with the tasting menu coming in at £25 plus another £22 for the paired wines.  It was an absolutely brilliant experience from beginning to end and I cannot wait to return for the full menu later in the year.  I am sure one day I will find one of those fine dining establishments that I fear so much and I will be horribly disappointed and I will return to my cheap eats and my street food and my simple home cooking but for now I'm thoroughly converted.  With a visit to the slightly more challenging and less familiar environment of the two Michelin starred restaurant L'Enclume just two days later I was about to find out how long my passion for fine dining would continue.

Special thanks to David Crayon for taking photos that don't look like they were taken in an unlit cave and sharing them with us.

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