Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Happy, smoky, milky

Happiness is smoked haddock chowder. The smell and taste bring back some of my earliest childhood memories: a treat lunch at The Place to Eat on the top floor of John Lewis in Edinburgh, big glass windows with views down over Leith and over the Firth of Forth to Fife. I remember the smoky fish, the luxurious creaminess of the broth and the sweetness of the sweetcorn, and even when I went off fish later on, the smell of a smoked haddock chowder would always bring back happy memories.

Now that I'm well and truly back on the fish, I decided to pop in to my local fishmongers, the amazing Steve Hatt on Essex Road, and pick up smoked haddock for that purpose. I using this Channel 4 recipe as a basis, but upped the celery as I had quite a bit of that in already and I never get through it quick enough.

Making the soup was very easy, and the most fun bit was boiling the smoked haddock in the milk, which produced this amazing creamy, smoky milk foam that I couldn't resist dipping my finger in. MMMMmmm.

The soup was absolutely wonderful - it tasted just like it used to, so creamy and rich but not too heavy going. I thought the addition of extra celery worked well and would like to try it with fennel next time for some extra depth of flavour.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Tom's Victorian Chop House

I had an overnight in Manchester with work last week. I really like Manchester, even though I only ever seem to go there on work duties. The last couple of times had been political party conferences, and the town is swamped with politicos, lobbyists, the media and party members. When I've had a free evening I've always tried to slip away from the throng of conference and find the beating heart of the city. Luckily, that wasn't too hard and I've been to some characterful (and bargainous) curry houses in the Northern Quarter, a basement Armenian restaurant and some fun bars and pubs.

This time I was on my own (no lobbyists for company!) and keen to try out some more of Manchester's dining options. I opted for the institution that is Tom's Chop House, a traditional north western restaurant/pub in the centre of the town, after lots of positive words from friends who've been there. It's all Victorian splendour inside: tiled floors, dark wood panelling on the walls, and lots of nice antique furniture. The waiting staff sensitively tucked me in a corner (slight look of sympathy when I asked for my "Table for one"!) with a good view of the restaurant and bar.

My first course was brown onion soup. It was very close to French onion soup (which I love), rich and deep flavours, the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions and the saltiness of the stock. Also like its French counterpart, it was served with a cheese crouton, although it was mature cheddar rather than gruyère. Really nice.

For my main I had a Lancashire beefsteak casserole with root veg and a dumpling. I do love a dumpling, and the casserole was utterly perfect. Really subtle but effective use of herbs and a good stock made the sauce delicious, while the meat itself was incredibly tender and clearly good quality.

The wine list was really expansive and not too expensive, but you could get some really nice stuff by the glass too. I opted for a glass of Borsao Garnacha Tinto, which matched the food perfectly. I was very full and the restaurant was getting busy with loud and happy Mancunians coming in to celebrate birthdays and catch up with long-time-no-seen friends. I ducked away from the chorus of 'I'll have a large Pinot Grigio!' to retire to my Travelodge and get on with some studying. But I was very happy to have experienced a slab of old skool Mancunian tradition on my one night there.