Restaurant Review | Pre-Theatre Dining Menu, Grafene

It seems to be my weekly activity at trying the pre-theatre dining menus in and around Manchester (I mean, I’m not complaining at all!). Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to try the new menu at Grafene. I have been waiting to try the food at Grafene since moving here, so as you can image I was very excited to be able to come and sample some of their favorutirs before heading to the Palace Theatre for an night of entertainemtn.

Grafene’s menu features a British Tapas selection, which is a reflection of brand new head chef Ben Mounsey’s thoughts and feelings about modern British life. Dishes on the menu include cleverly reconstructed classics and plates, giving the customer the opportunity to sample dishes from the dinner menu in a more relaxed format, with three plates for £20.00 and five for £30.00.

Menu

The British Tapas menu.

To start, I had a Passionfruit and White Chocolate Martini, which is a twist on the classic Pornstar Martini. Almost tasting like a mix between a White Magnum ice cream and a Solero ice lolly, the combination of flavours was heavenly, and definitely one I will try again in the future.

Passionfruit and White Chocolate Martini

My passionfruit and white chocolate martini, served with a passionfruit coated with melted white chocolate inside and caramelised on top.

The cocktail menu was very impressive, with original cocktails being added to the mix of more classics, including “The Mancunian” and “Grafene” just to name a few.

But, more importantly, I was immensely impressed with the mocktail list. My guest isn’t drinking alchol at the moment (maybe I should take a leaf out of her book…). Usually, you get the classic tiny section of the drinks menu for the mocktails, where it’s just a Virgin Mojito or something of the similar with a Virgin infront of it.

Grafene are the rule breakers, with an incredible mocktail list that has been carefully thought out. Definitely try one of the mocktails, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

To start, we were presented with two loaves of bread – mini loaves! You had a garlic bread, served with garlic butter. The other was a treacle and rye loaf, served with corn on the cob butter. Both were lovely and warm, which melted the butter, which complimented the flavours of the dough. And don’t they look adorable!

To start I went for the corn fed chicken wing, served with croquettes, charred gem cauliflower. The chicken was so tender that it felt like it melted in my mouth. The char grilled veg was flavourful and the crisp texture matched the soft chicken wing.

My guest is a vegetarian, so went for the veggie option of this dish – which didn’t loose any of the flavours that were in the meat version. She also went for the beetroot, granola, spinach and verjus salad, which looks so beautiful with lots of colour and the presentation was lovely. The granola and beetroot gave the salad a sweet kick to it, which was a pleasant surprise.

I then went for the rendered duck leg, herbs, beet piccalilli and I’ve never had lamb so juicy before, it was excellent! I’ve never really like piccalilli before, but this beetroot sauce was beautiful, and complemented the dish wonderfully.

My guest ordered the mushroom, truffle soup that was packed full of flavour and presented beautifully.

To finish, we both chose the brownie in a bowl. The brownie was more like the texture of meringue, which was great because it made the desert not to heavy and rich. The brownie was served with chocolate shards and mint mouse.

Overall, the service at Grafene was wonderful and the food was very tasty and the presentation was incredible.

If you are looking for somewhere for a pre-theatre dining menu with a bit of sass and swarve then you need to visit Grafene!

Grafene, 55 King Street, M2 4LQ

www.grafene.co.uk

Restaurant Review | Ibérica Spinningfields | Pre-Theatre Dinner Menu

I love tapas – at least, I thought I knew what tapas was. That was until I visited Iberica, in Spinningfields, where what I knew of tapas was flipped on its head.

My guest and I took a seat on the outside terrace, seeing as the sun was shining and it was too glorious not to sit outside, and browsed the drinks menu first.

The most important part, right? Being a Spanish bar, naturally, the wine was excellent, and we started off the meal with a glass of Cava each.

We also nibbled on fresh green olives and some cured serrano ham,  which had a lovely chewiness to it.

When choosing the food, that was simple – there were so many options that stood out to me straight away.

For the first part, you choose two tapas – seeing as there was two of us, we ordered four different ones so we could mix between us.

The asparagus toast, topped with melted Manchego cheese, onion confit and truffle oil. It was delicious, and the Manchego and truffle oil complemented each other wonderfully – sometimes truffle oil can be too overpowering in dishes.

Secondly, we shared the beef tomato and salmorejo, with garlic breadcrumbs and beetroot granita, with a hidden surprise of capers. The sauce was light and fresh, and the dish was so easy to eat (I definitely wanted another one straight away!)

We also shared a warm lentil salad, which came out with a soft cooked egg which we were instructed to break and mix into the lentils, pea shoots and roasted baby carrots. I was suspicious about this one if I’m honest, but the mix of the salad, lentils and the poach egg mixed together was splendid. The egg acted as the salad dressing, and the flavours complemented the lentils and roasted carrots amazingly.

Finally, the last tapas we chose was the salted cod brandada served with vegetable crisps. The cod was almost like pate, and the melted in the mouth with the crisps. The mint sauce was crisp and very fresh.

After your tapas, you chose one tapa from the menu (I never thought that it was singular for tapas) from the choice of three options.

I chose the twice cooked lamb, with marinated cherry tomatoes & red peppers from León. The texture of the lamb was divine, and broke away easily, similar to pulled pork.

My guest chose the poached hake, with hollandaise sauce & baby gem lettuce. Both the sauce and fish were full of flavour.

Finally, we were served a sweet apple liqueur in a shot glass with an ice cube and slice of apple, which was very refreshing and sharp.

I have to mention how lovely and attentive the staff were – they made our evening even more special.

The menu is available every day from 5 pm to 6.30pm and works out at £18 per person (not including drinks).

If you are looking for a new place to try for a pre-theatre dining option, or going out for some delicious food, then Ibérica is for you!

I will definitely be returning with more of my friends to try more of their tapas dishes (and for another Sangria!)

14-15, The Avenue Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3HF / ibericarestaurants.com

Restaurant Review | Blue Pig | Manchester

If someone asks me what I want to eat, it’s usually cheese, bread and deli meats. Well, it was a match made in heaven when I visited Blue Pig Manchester, as that’s what they do best. Plus, they create some of the coolest vegan cocktails I have ever tried in my life.

You will find the Blue Pig just around the corner from Shudehill and the Arndale, and located on a neat little corner with outdoor seating – perfect those rare and sunny days in Manchester where all you want to do is sit outside with a cocktail, eating cheese and pretending your somewhere abroad.

Inside the decor is a mixture of pub, bar and rustic shop – which works perfectly with the food and drink they serve.

The best bit about the Blue Pig menu is that you can pick and choose what you have. You can choose any 3 for £7 or 5 for £10 on the deli products. They also have happy hours on their cocktails, Monday to Friday, 4 pm – 7 pm, where you can get two cocktails for £10 (even more of an excuse for an after work drink and nibble!).

To start, I have the Lemon Curd Collins cocktails (£7.50), which is shaken up with Ketel One Citron vodka, Limoncello, lemon curd, vanilla syrup, orange bitters and a soda top. It’s citrusy and refreshing – the perfect naughty lemonade to cool you down!

I’m a big lover of strong, smelly cheese, so being able to pick the ones to try was great! I went for a Creamy Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, which was creamy and crumbly.

The Lancashire cheese went perfectly with the air-dried Dorset beef, which was tender and chewy. I recently found a love of Biltong, and this one has to be one of the best I have ever tasted. The beef also had a sweet hint to it, as it was marinated and soaked in juniper and port.

You cannot get any stronger than an 18 month matured cheddar cheese, and the Quickes extra mature cheddar was a show stealer. The tang goes well with the chutney and crackers.

My favourite cheese out of them all was the Perl Wen, a Welsh brie that was so soft and creamy that it literally melts in your mouth. I think it’s one of the nicest brie I have ever tried, and I know I’ll be a regular back at the Blue Pig just for this cheese alone!

Finally, the last meat that I tried was the Cumbrian Air Dried prosciutto ham which was sweet and salty at the same time.

The last cocktail I tried was the Gin Swill, a vegan cocktail made with Tanqueray gin, triple sec, coconut syrup, lime and pineapple juice, drizzled over with Chambord for that sunset effect. Sweet, fruity and fresh. A perfect summer evening drink!

The staff were so welcoming and very knowledgeable of the dishes and drinks that they serve. If you are stuck for ideas, they’d be able to help you out with the decision of what to try.

thebluepigmcr.co.uk

The Blue Pig, 69 High St, Manchester M4 1FS

Restaurant Review | eXchange Food and Drink Lounge | Manchester

Tucked away in the Hotel Novotel on Dickinson Street is the hidden gem that is eXchange Food and Drinks Lounge.

If you were to walk past it, you might not notice it, but it’s one to visit.

Offering a small bar menu that serves classic pub food, you have enough choice for to find something you like, but not too much that you cannot choose what you want to eat.

The atmosphere and interior is a mixture of pub and cocktail bar – high tables, large windows, and bright walls makes the venue look bright and welcoming.

For starters, I went for Franks hot sauce chicken wings, with a ranch dressing (£5). The spicy coating of the chicken wings was sticky and yummy, and the refreshing ranch dip was perfect to dunk the wing into.

My guest had the mini baked camembert, with celery and carrot sticks (£5). You can’t go wrong with camembert, and the dish certainly didn’t disappoint. A side of bread would have been nice though to dip into the gooey cheese.

For mains, I chose the harissa spiced salmon on top of a bed of tomato and tabbouleh salad (£15). The fish was a little bit overcooked, and a sauce alongside the dish would have been welcomed, as the tabbouleh was a bit dry. But the flavour was fantastic and rich.

My guest went for the big one and ordered the 10z rib eye steak, served with skinny fries and garlic butter (£19). The steak was cooked to perfection, and the juices oozed with every bite. A minimalistic and straightforward arrangement of the food has its pros and cons – the plate did look a bit empty apart from the steak and chips, but on a positive note, what you see is what you get, and there are no hidden surprises.

Even though we were pretty full from the starter and main, of course, there’s always space for a cheeky dessert.

I chose the trio of creme brulees – coffee, chocolate and vanilla flavour, served with shortbread biscuits (£6). The thought of the vanilla creme brulee leaves me weak at the knees and wanting more. Smooth, sweet and creamy – exactly what you expect and want from the much-loved dessert.

My guest chose the classic bread and butter pudding with custard and berries (£5). A portion slightly on the smaller side, but still creamy and sweet.

A simple but sophisticated menu with something for everyone. Fantastic service and a lovely experience. I shall be returning.

Exchange Lounge – 21 Dickinson St, Manchester M1 4LX

 

Restaurant Review | Asha’s Manchester | Pre-Theatre Dining Menu

The British people love a good curry. It’s actually said that chicken tikka masala is the nation’s favourite dish. Over the years, we have become more adventurous with our taste, donning a vindaloo or even a spicy Dhansak. Manchester is famous for its curry mile, but I was invited to a curry house where they make your dining experience a bit more refined.

Opening its doors on Peter Street a three years ago, Asha’s is not your ordinary curry house. Gorgeous gold chandeliers adorn the ceilings above the purple velvet booths creates a unique and stylish experience.

The pre-theatre dining menu is either a two (£17.95) or three courses (£19.95), with a glass of house wine, beer or soft drink. The menu is served Monday to Friday 5:30 pm – 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 3pm – 7 pm.

It might be a step up from the standard curry house, but it’s not too posh for poppadums, and that’s where we started. Served with a selection home-made chutneys, my favourite was the mint and coriander sauce, and of course, mango chutney!

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Being recommended to try the starters with the sauces, the waitress brought us over a new selection and our starters.

For the starters, we chose one vegetarian speciality platter and one meat one. The speciality platter included a gosht seekh kebab, murg malai kebab and seafood seekh kebab. The gosht was a gorgeous lamb kebab and seasoned well. The seafood kebab was a bit of an odd texture and sadly didn’t have much flavour to it. But the murg malai chicken kebab was a winner for me, as the chicken was oozing with flavour and moisture!

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The vegetarian speciality platter included paneer ka soola, tandoori broccoli and Aloo Matar ki Tikki. All full of flavour and punch, you wouldn’t even know you were eating vegetables and baked cheese! My guest clearly loved the starter as she wouldn’t let me even try all the selection, but she finished them all and had a clean plate, so I guess she liked them.

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For our main course, I wanted the classic chicken tikka to see if it reached my high expectations for it. It certainly did. Named the Murg Makhani, the chicken tikka in a tomato and cream gravy, delicately flavoured with dried fenugreek leaves. The chicken was cooked spot on, and the sauce wasn’t too tomatoey and had just the right amount of spice. Served with a bowl of rice and naan bread, I could not fault my main course.

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My guest went for the Murg Tikka Salad, with corn-fed chicken tikka cooked in a tandoor oven. Served on a bed of salad, drizzled with fresh coriander and olive oil dressing. There was too much dressing on top, leaving the whole dish very oily. The flavour of the chicken was delightful and had a good kick of heat to it.

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It is hard not to like and have a good time in a curry house, even when there’s only a small amount of people sat down during the early evening. Manchester is swimming with places for a good curry, but you should definitely try Asha’s for the fantastic service from all the staff and the gorgeous and tasty food that the talented chefs create. It’s one to check out while you’re here!

Asha’s, 47 Peter St, Manchester M2 3NG / ashasmanchester.co.uk