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GURKHA GRILL, WEST DIDSBURY

This Nepalese restaurant seems to have been there for donkeys years. Certainly I’ve walked past it many times but this is the first time we’ve been.

Much of the menu is the bog standard offerings from any number of north Indian places – the “any protein with any sauce” type of meal. But there are some more interesting things to be had.

We passed on the usual poppadums offer but were pleasantly surprised to receive a freebie salad – tomato, onion, pepper, chickpeas – brought together with the zing of lime juice and a hefty chilli kick.

My partner enjoyed her chana chaat – the same ingredients as the freebie salad but a less intense flavouring and with a good sourness from tamarind. I’d ordered a very Nepalese dish of momo – minced chicken dumplings, very similar to Chinese dim sum, but served in a very spicy tomato sauce. Although interesting in itself, it wasn’t a dish I’d be in a rush to return to – the sauce overpowered what was probably a delicately spiced dumpling.

We both went with lamb mains from the Gurkha specialities menu. First up was Khasi Ko Bhutwa – the meat had been cooked first long and slow, so that was very tender and then finished in the pan to crisp the exterior with ginger, garlic and cumin. It is served dry with the spices just forming the crisp coating. It was lovely and such a change from the very wet dishes you often come across from this part of the world.

Speaking of very wet dishes, I’d ordered Aduwa Khasi. A fragrant dish of, again, excellent tender lamb; the sauce with lots of sliced ginger and “al dente” green pepper and finished with fresh coriander. It worked very well with the pilau rice that we had to accompany the mains.

Unfortunately, the pretty good food was let down by less than stellar service. My main course had to go back as they’d prepared it with chicken rather than the lamb as ordered. And a side order of tarka daal had to be chased and didn’t arrive until we’d all but finished.

John Hartley

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  • 2 weeks later...

PICCOLO, GATLEY

A new place near home , so it had to be tried. I’d always hope that the food at an independently owned Italian restaurant would be better than the chains – like Ask and Piccolino. And usually it is. But, I’m afraid to say, not here.

I like the way the conversion of the building has been done. And service was pretty good. That said, when there’s only one table occupied, you’d expect service to be pretty good.

A tomato bruschetta was much as you’d expect in northern Europe in December. Decent crisp bread but the tomatoes were under ripe. And straight out the fridge so whatever taste they might have had was pretty much destroyed. Yep, a bit of a mistake ordering it.

Frito misto was decent. Some salad leaves, topped with whitebait and squid rings with a blob of mayo on the side. Now, on first bite of the squid, there was a pleasant crunch from the very crisp batter. But the squid itself was chewy. I’d risk a fiver that this was frozen battered squid rather than anything freshly made from scratch in the kitchen.

A vegetable pizza came without its advertised black olives and cherry tomatoes. They would have perked up an otherwise quite boring offering. An accompanying salad was OK but had no dressing, nor was oil and vinegar brought until we asked for it.

Penne diavolo was fine but nothing to shout from the rooftops about. Al dente pasta and a creamy sauce with a few chunks of spicy salami stirred through. There was, shall we say, a lack of generosity in the portion size of both pasta and sauce.

We finished with coffee. It would have been nice if these had been served with sugar and a spoon, without us having to ask for them.

John Hartley

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I’d risk a fiver that this was frozen battered squid rather than anything freshly made from scratch in the kitchen.

I first posted this review on a local board and the site owners assured me that I had lost my bet. Well, even though I remain absolutely gob-smacked that this wasnt frozen, the fiver has winged its way to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for East Africa. Coz I'm an "Honest John". Innit.

John Hartley

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  • 1 month later...

PICCOLO - again

Went back to try their "crunch lunch" menu. A handful of pizzas, couple of pasta and a risotto - all priced at £3.50. Absolute freaking bargain. Perhaps only matched for value for money in the metro area by the "rice & three" at the Northern Quarter curry cafes.

John Hartley

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  • 3 months later...

LOTUS - again

So, we went back to sample the Malaysian menu. I think it’s better than the South Indian.

Google tells me that “Rojak” is the Malay word for “mixture”, so it’s no surprise that this is exactly what the dish was. A mix of soft fried tofu, bean sprouts, egg (and other stuff I couldnt identify) in a thick sweet chilli sauce, topped with peanut sauce with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. This was good – very good.

The other starter was roti canai. A couple of delicious flaky roti – just as we had a few months back in a Cape Malay restaurant in South Africa. The daal perfectly flavoursome and well seasoned but very thin in texture. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be but it wasn’t a massive success – not least as it was so thin it ran off the bread.

Nasi Goreng Kampong Style was a very generous serving of rice, chicken, king prawn, vegetables, topped with anchovies. The prawns were obviously previously frozen and were served still with their tails on – but cooking managed to avoid the usual turn to rubber. Good dish – but not as good as my partner’s lamb rendang. This was a portion that would happily have fed both of us. This was good quality meat, cooked for a long, long time, so it was exceptionally tender. The sauce had all but gone and there was just enough clinging to the meat. I managed to get a couple of tastes (well, “tastes” undervalues the greed with which I attacked the leftovers). This was a star dish and I’d go back just to eat it.

John Hartley

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  • 1 month later...

NUMBER 4, DIDSBURY

This little modern bistro is tucked away down a cobbled side street, just away from the ghetto of chain places that infest this end of Didsbury. My partner had been before but today’s lunch was a first time experience for me.

As you might expect, there’s nothing adventurous about No. 4 – just decent offerings of Brit bistro food. Like a cheddar cheese soufflé, which was light and cheesy and came with a splodge of tomato & chilli sauce. Like a goodly sized portion of four king scallops, just cooked through, and thankfully, still with the coral attached. They sat on a slice of crisply fried prosciutto, some pea puree and a sprinkling of pea shoots.

This bit of spot-on cooking preceded another spot-on bit of cooking in the form of calves liver. I’d been asked how I wanted it cooked and I’d replied that I’d like it how the chef would like it. Thankfully, he doesn’t like overdone liver. The thin slices must have been in the pan only a matter of seconds to come out as pink and delicious as they did. There were a couple of slices of back bacon, a dollop of spinach, a bigger dollop of none too sloppy mashed spuds and a well seasoned light sauce. And, for a bit of texture contrast a few battered onion rings. It was the sort of plate that I reckon to be a nigh on perfect lunch dish. Oh, and they offer this in large or small portions and, yes, of course I went large.

Another dish offered in two sizes was my partner’s fish and chips. Small in this case but certainly sufficient that she wasn’t about to go away hungry. Fish comes as haddock goujons, in a very light, very crisp tempura batter which makes it a very different dish than you get at Fosters Chippy at the other end of the village. Not necessarily better – but different; more refined; more elegant. Good chips – proper chips, not fries or “fat” chips. Mushy peas, of course. And tartare sauce that was probably out of jar.

Desserts kept up the decent standard. A salty caramel cheesecake did everything you’d expect by way of a rich dessert. Apple and rhubarb pie was in lovely crisp pastry with the tartness of the fruit softened by a good sprinkling of sugar and clotted cream.

No, Number 4 is not going to set the food world alight. Not even the South Manchester food world. But it’s enjoyable food. And it must disappoint them that, on a Friday lunchtime, ours was the only table occupied.

Edited by Harters (log)

John Hartley

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  • 2 weeks later...

SHIRAZ, NORTHENDEN

We went to eat at this Persian place some months back, only to find it shut (seemingly permanently). Passing it a couple of weeks ago, we spotted it had reopened with new owners. And what a little cracker of a place it turned out to be.

There’s a fairly short menu – none of the page upon page of mezze items that you sometimes come across – but certainly enough to be of interest. What sparked the particular interest was a mezze choice of four items from the starter menu. However, the very lovely Iranian woman who was our server warned us off it, suggesting that the dishes were large and the mezze would easily feed four. So, we just ordered a couple of starters. First up, halim bademjan. I’ve had this before. A mix of aubergine, lentils, garlic and herbs, mashed together into not quite a dipping puree, then topped with yogurt. This was a belter of a version and the only sensible way to eat it was to dollop big spoonfuls onto the excellent flatbread. The other starter, hummus, was perfectly fine – but then hummus is hummus is hummus. We also ordered a bowl of very good torshi – nothing particularly exotic about the veg but all very nicely vinegared.

For mains, fesanjan was excellent. Long cooked, but still moist chicken. A big enough portion that would have fed two not very hungry people. The sauce sweetish from the pomegranate but not too sweet, and with little nibs of walnut offering a little texture change. The other plate, ghormeh sabzi – long cooked diced lamb and kidney beans with a restrained use of parsley, coriander, chive and fenugreek. Perhaps too restrained a use, it was like eating the Persian equivalent of shepherd’s pie. And, as with shepherd’s pie, it was good thing to eat.

But the gob-smackingly wonderful thing on both plates was the rice. Long grains, that we later found out was patna rice, beautifully cooked. Absolutely delicious – and we told the waitress so. Next minute, she’s explaining how it’s cooked and, yes, they’d be happy to sell us a kilo. That sorted, chef is the next person to arrive to tell us a simpler way to cook (basically just steam it, rather than a combination of boil and steam). Can’t recall ever buying ingredients direct from a chef before – nor getting a cookery lesson while we waited to pay the bill.

If you’re in the area, please go and give these nice people some business.

Edited by Harters (log)

John Hartley

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  • 1 month later...

RED LION, HIGH LANE, STOCKPORT

It may well be in a pub building, have a pub name, and have a small drinking area but by any usual standards, this is a restaurant. And, when you know that it’s owned by Steve Pilling, you spot the menu similarities from when he ran the two chop houses in Manchester. Straightforward food, cooked well, which nods considerably in the direction of traditional British dishes. Good stuff and it’d been on our “to try” list for far too long.

There’s little to say about potted shrimps, except that they were well seasoned with a little hint of spice. They came with a small handful of leaves and a couple of slices of toast. Smoked haddock kedgeree was the other starter – well cooked rice, lots of fish flakes, a judicious use of the curry spices and a perfectly poached egg, which sloshed over everything else when I cut into it. Really nice.

A burger is a burger is a burger. It’s the additions which can break or, in this case, make it. There was crisp smoked bacon, a punchy cheddar, sliced tomato and onion. And, probably because this is a Pilling gaff, there’s none of the soft pappy burger bun that falls apart in your lap when you first bite into it. Oh no, this one comes on a proper northern barm cake. Usually served medium to medium rare, my partner is funny about mince products and prefers them well done. It didn’t seem to harm it too much. There’s decent chips (albeit of the “fat” variety) and not so decent coleslaw, that was quite watery.

It’s years since I’ve had a steak and kidney pudding. A bad gristle experience with a Hollands one from the chippy put me right off them. But, it was time to overcome my blind prejudice. A thick and nicely solid suet pastry packed with long cooked steak and a little (too little) kidney. A jug of gravy moistened it all up. Mushy peas and the same fat chips on the side. This was a main course plate that shouted to me that I’d need a nap afterwards.

These four dishes were off the main menu. But there’s a stunner of a lunchtime bargain that we’re going back for. A table d’hote of starter, main course, glass of wine - £25 for two. They change the TdH every couple of weeks apparently.

You’ll have gathered I liked it here. But it reminded me that a return visit to Pilling’s Damson restaurant at the other end of town is well overdue.

John Hartley

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  • 1 month later...

ROSE GARDEN, WEST DIDSBURY

The name surely conjures up an image of a chintzy teashop attached to some minor stately home. That image might put some folk off.

Equally, the reality might also put some folk off. What you get is minimalist decor and furniture– all plain walls, white tables and the sort of white plastic chairs that have their history in the 1960s pop art movement. Add in almost every table occupied and the result is a very noisy environment, with the sound bouncing off the walls.

Beyond that you have a very short, well constructed carte and an even shorter set menu offering two courses for fifteen quid, or three for a couple more. And it’s from the latter that we ordered.

I started with a chicken liver salad which I enjoyed eating, once I played hunt the chicken liver. And I do mean that in the singular – the little nuggets of just cooked meat could not have amounted to more than one liver. They were scatted through a handful of mixed leaves which were well tossed with a lovely sharp red wine dressing. A little drizzle of thinned down sour cream added another layer.

The other starter was the better bet. The cutely named “chip shop prawns” was a cracker. Two battered king prawns sat on their own disc of mushy pea fritter and were each topped with a couple of mini chips. A couple of blobs of tartare sauce set things off. Really rather good.

Hanger steak followed the prawns (on the main carte you have the option between hanger and fillet, at differing costs). A good meatiness here, although as you might expect, a little chewy and scaggy in parts. Also on the plate, three “bonbons” – small balls of long cooked shin, breadcrumbed and deepfried. Really delicious. Fondant potato was OK and the watercress garnish prevented everything from looking too brown.

Ballotine of salmon came from the restaurants “fishy special of the week”. It was a tad overcooked but nothing major to fuss about and it tasted fine, with some mixed herbs running through the centre of each slice. It sat on a pea risotto which was, in the usual way of British restaurants, overly claggy. What was a nice touch was the inclusion on the plate of a couple of triangles of prawn toast – just as you might have in a Chinese restaurant. They brought a welcome bit of crunch.

There’s fierce competition amongst the restaurants in West Didsbury and I’ll happily eat at 5 or 6 of them, all within a couple of minutes walk of each other. Rose Garden is a very worthy addition.

John Hartley

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CAVIAR, CHEADLE

The Bay Tree closed in the early summer and it’s not taken long for this new Persian restaurant to settle into the premises. Unfortunately, like the Bay Tree, the cooking just misses the mark and you come away thinking “yeah, that was OK but I think I’d rather have had a pizza” .

For starters, houmous was houmous, but not a good version. Gilasheh was more interesting. A pretty good concoction of soft chicken livers in a sweet and sour pomegranate sauce, with a touch of cinnamon in there. The sauce was rich and very dark and it not only tasted good but looked good clinging to the meat. There were decent flatbreads for mopping up. We had some torshi which came nicely vinegared but the vegetables were chopped really fine so there was little texture.

Mains were a disappointment. Ghomeh sabzi should be a zingy lamb and kidney bean stew, flavoured with coriander, parsley, fenugreek and lime. And it just wasn’t. Nothing unpleasant here but nothing to get excited about – the sort of reaction you might have to, say, an OK shepherds pie.

Barg was a decent slice of lamb loin, but it was overly chewy and lacking in a good lamby flavour. There was a nondescript sauce with it – it could easily have something like passata with a blob of harissa stirred through. The rice that came with both mains was perfectly cooked – nice and fluffy..

My partner ordered bastani for dessert – perhaps the best thing either of us ate during the evening. A rich pistachio ice cream. Really lovely.

John Hartley

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