Thursday, 31 July 2014

Manchester Street Food

Street food has been quite a big thing in Manchester for some time now. Of course there's the almost food market in Picadilly gardens every Thurday, Friday, Saturday, but in addition there is currently a weekly street food fiesta taking place at the end of Tariff Street (Northern Quarter): 'Up in Your Grill'. In a very uninspiring location, the Up in Your Grill team have managed to transform the concrete drab into a weekend hit.  Every Friday and Saturday afternoon/night for 9 consecutive weeks there is craft beer to be drunk, a diversity of food to be tried and music from a terrace top DJ booth to be enjoyed. So far these urban party's have been especially awesome thanks to the spectacular sunshine. I took my nephews a couple of weeks back. I chose that particular Saturday as I knew that Mughli, the popular curry-mile restaurant were going to be providing delectable goods - something I didn't want to miss.

What Mughli brought to the party. Amongst other things.

I wasn't disappointed, the street food scene was a great place to people watch, spot the best hipster beard and munch my way through sweet potato-fries-themed everything. Mughli's sweet potato fries topped with some delicious mix of chilli and aubergine was a fab Saturday afternoon naughty snack. My nephews devoured a mountain of food provided by Solita, a firm Northern Quarter favourite. I can only presume that it tasted good if the time it took for the entirety to be consumed is anything to go by.

Anyway, if you're wondering what to do on Friday/Saturday, head down to Tariff Street - look for the posters and just keep on walking. The chances are you'll come across a burger bonanza that you won't regret.

The men behind Mughli

Follow @beatsreetmcr on twitter for the weekly line-ups. This Saturday its 'Diamond Dogs', 'Nikono', 'Solita' and 'The Real Sue Lee'. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Coffee Journal: Square Mile Sweet Shop

Square Mile are an East-London based  coffee roasters with multiple awards to their name. With a focus on wholesale, they aim to put London on a pedestal renowned for great coffee. As firm contributors to the London coffee scene, I have been keen to try some of their quality espresso. Despite having a growing list of places I want to visit in London - I rarely venture to the capital. As such, with Square Mile's 'Sweetshop' espresso being North Tea Power's current guest espresso - I trekked across town to the Northern Quarter to give it a try. Having read that fun is a core part of their philosophy I became even more game to sample some of their more experimental espresso blends. 

Well. I can certainly understand why they call it Sweetshop. When drunk as pure espresso, the sweetness really slaps you in the face.  I wanted to try Sweetshop both black and with milk so I asked NTP to split the shot: an espresso and a cappuccino was presented to me. Compared to the chocolaty, rich and smooth espresso that I tend to favour, Sweetshop  is both sweet and bitter at the same time- like some coffee variant of 'tangfastic haribo'. The cappuccino provided a less impacting sip. Every taste of the single espresso I had, I presumed the less sweet/sharp and exciting it would be as I adapt to the pic'n'mix equivalent coffee hit. But no, every sip is a new tangy surprise. As I move back over to the milky-dream cappuccino on my right I can confirm that it's a less exciting taste-bud adventure. This is such a fun game, switching between the two slightly bizarre beverages. Shame that I'm playing it alone, suffering from a slightly uncomfortable muggy temperature whilst surrounded by an over-bearing smog of cigar smoke from rude gentleman perched next to me. He's drinking tea. My gut instinct appears to be correct in telling me that he's a dodgy fella. I joke. But really, coffee > tea. 

I digress, back to the fun game. The espresso is really dominating the match. The cappuccino started to claw back a few sips after the espresso's initial powerful flavour punch. Then, bang; a mini gulp to finish off the espresso, my wrist moves as if knocking down a tequila shot in a swift attempt to reap every last drop of the exiting brew. Check mate. Game over. 'Purity' wins the day.

For something different, give Square Mile's Sweetshop a try. 


Square Mile describe their seasonal espresso as follows: "The idea behind Sweetshop is simple:  Combine sweet and characterful coffee to create a fun, wildly complex and fruit-driven espresso.  It isn't about balance.  It isn't about tradition.  This is about cramming as much fruit and complexity into the cup as possible.  We want an espresso that doesn’t taste like anything else."

I'm relatively new to the world of artisan coffee, it's not easy trying to capture with words the sensation of taste and the aroma. The complexity of the Sweetshop espresso, like most new things I try, is ineffable. It's fun trying to pin down flavours, describe the different notes coming through at distinct stages of the sip. The initial smell, the first taste impression and the lingering remnants of what was so sweet but so short lived. It's all so intricate, you just have to try it for yourself. Just as our favourite flavours will differ, so will our experience of it all.

Review Rating System Explained

Here's the basic system I've come up with to give y'all a snap shot of what I think of a place:

Manchester Coffee: My Top Picks

I only started drinking this beloved beverage about 2 years ago. It was a rapid consumption curve from nothing, to perpetually seeking out the best caffeine-fix this city has to offer. Here are my favourite places, they are in no particular order. I can't rank them and where I go depends on my mood, what ambience I'm after and what brew I'm craving. If you think I've made a tragic mistake in leaving one of your favourite coffee spots out - please do tell! I may be yet to discover an espresso gem! (Or maybe I just don't rate it, we'll see). For more info on these chosen cafes below, click on their names to go to my full reviews. I feel I must add, my favourites will probably change as my coffee taste develops. I'm an aspiring coffee aficionado. Bear with.

GRINDSMITH - Greengate Square, near Manchester Cathedral

A really interesting brew bar: an eco-pod located a stones throw away from Manchester Cathedral. Excellent coffee, including wonderful affogato's. Not only is the coffee here really really good - its location makes it a cool place to sit and consider the meaning of life for some time. 

FYG & SPARROW -  Oldham Street, Northern Quarter

Fyg & Sparrow may be my favourite coffee corner in Manchester....I have such a soft spot for this place. They do great coffee, I LOVE their flat white. The staff are lovely and friendly. The atmosphere and decor is great as the coffee bar is tucked at the back of a delightful arty gift/card shop. Also, a bonus is that they stock 'Trove' bread -  an artisan bakery in Levuhnhulme that satisfy my need for quality bread including sour-dough rye and walnut bread. A strong Americano and a wedge of rye toast - a great way to start the day I'd say. 

NORTH TEA POWER - Tib Street, Northern Quarter

NTP Cappuccino

I love this place in the winter, especially during the manic and somewhat oppressive Christmas shopping spree a few blocks away in the Arndale. Its an escape from the bustle, a calm safe haven in which to tranquilly breathe, think and most importantly enjoy an exquisite coffee. Yes its called North TEA Power, and they do indeed have a diverse selection of teas, but its the coffee that draws many to this place. It's not cheap, I find it a tad stressful forking out £2.70 for a Cappuccino - but for an occasional pleasant pause from the central city buzz its worth it. The food on offer is also good - a nice array of fresh bakes and sandwiches. NTP also offers a guest espresso for if you ever want a change from their house blend 'Deerhunter' espresso (which makes a gorgeous flat white!) 

TAKK - Tariff Street, Northern Quarter

Besides loving the brownies here, the coffee, once again is fab. Takk is a cool space, its pretty big - minimalistic and totally hip. The tables are like old school desks and the bulbs are most aesthetically pleasing. The staff here are super-friendly and passionate about what they do. Like most of these coffee houses, Takk are currently offering a cold-brew as-well as traditional espressos. The granola at breakfast is really good, as are the lunch-time sandwiches. Along with Caffeine & Co, I'd say Takk has the best food offerings amongst this selection of coffee houses. 

CAFFEINE & CO - Spinningfields/ St James Square

Caffeine & Co is a small, hip, artisan coffee house tucked in the corner of Spinningfields - the trendy business heart of central Manchester. Caffeine & Co offer seriously good loaf cakes - I particularly like the banana or the gingerbread loaf. If you're lucky they often have a cheeky sample to try at the front! Additionally this is the perfect place for a hearty lunch-time soup or stew. This isn't the place for a diverse tea selection - if that's what you're after head to the likes of 'Proper Tea Rooms' on the other side of the centre. Instead Caffeine & Co bring quality espressos to this at time somewhat intimidatingly swish area. My favourite way to drink their coffee is their 'cortado' - a bargain at £2. Their flat white is also beautifully smooth and again well priced at £2.30 - at North Tea Power this costs £2.70!! I'm yet to try Caffeine & Co's 'kakao' selection having always opted for a caffeine kick. However, during the cold winter months I will head to this cosy corner to try some of the white, milk, or dark chocolate beverages that they offer.  The interior of the cafe is tastefully done, the metal chairs, chunky wooden tables, counters and walls bring hybrid industrial-rustic feel. I like it.

Note: there are two Caffeine & Co's - I've been talking about the one in Spinningfields, their smaller sister cafe mirrors the cake/espresso quality and is tucked on a side street a stones throw away from Albert Square. It is really small so not a place to have a group meeting!

JAVA - Station Approach, Oxford Road/ Uppermill/ Victoria Train Station

Java does a dam good coffee. It's both a little tucked away from the Oxford Road corridor and simultaneously  prime-location for those visiting Oxford Road station. I love the flat-white here, the cappuccino is too big for my liking - I want coffee not milk! The Americano is good too but I'm yet to try their 'Just pure Java' - where they just let the hot water keep flowing after the espresso comes out to create a stronger drink. Something for when I'm after a real caffeine buzz! The flat-white is quite pricey at £2.60 - so a bit of a treat, but all in all the prices are standard. Java doubles up as a wine bar and a deli. Well, it's not really a deli I feel as they haven't got an epicfood selection, but the olives, nuts, breads etc. that they offer I suppose merit that description-ish. Their larger sister cafe in Uppermill has more food to offer. I've never visited the Java located in Victoria station - but I hear it exists! The man who always serves me is quite charming - bit of a bonus.

Just to say: I live in central Manchester and given my hectic lifestyle of studying and training, I'm rarely in a position to explore Greater Manchester. There's alot of cafes that I want to try in Chorlton - but I haven't found the time to do so! Before long I think I'll do a separate post on places in Chorlton to visit as I do love it. Along with the Northern Quarter, its the area of Manchester that reminds me most of my beloved home-town Bristol.

Not a bladdy Starbucks in sight!

Grindsmith Espresso and Brewbar

Ever since seeing 'Grindsmith' on kickstarter months ago, an uber-cool urban eco-pod of a coffee house, I had been eager to venture to Greengate Square to give it a try.

There it is, the little cutesy

I was adamant that given the compact-wooden-pod nature of the place, I should only go in extreme weather conditions in order to make the trip all the more exciting. In beloved but rainy Manchester, blue-skies and sunshine qualifies as extreme conditions. As such, during a sunny June Sunday, I seized the opportunity to sip on a 'Grindsmith' flat white, with sunshine beaming through the open fa├žade (almost entirely made of glass) - I was not disappointed. An excellent decision on my part to go when sunny and excellent brewing skills from Grindsmith as far as kick-ass flat white's are concerned.   

Upon arrival I geekily bombarded the barista with brew-related questions. Reminiscent of my younger self during science lessons, I was intrigued by the variety of brewing instruments and keen to learn more. The bearded (of course he was) man that served us was genuinely friendly and really chilled, just what you'd hope from an edgy coffee cavern really. He let us sample their cold brew. He told us that it takes 24 hours to make and has four times more caffeine than their normal coffee (you know the 'normal' espresso that makes me abnormally hyper-active for a sustained period of time).  Upon hearing about the caffeine content and sampling the unusually fruity cold brew (potentially comparable to a cross between some sort of tea and coffee) I momentarily transformed into an owl-like creature.

Coffee with a view...

As it was Sunday afternoon it didn't feel appropriate to consume an entire glass of the hardcore cold brew, so I went for, as I always do, the flat white. Like I said it was a good'n and all the more appreciated due to the unusual urban haven Grindsmith have managed to create. I can just imagine returning during the winter months for quite a different and somewhat cosier experience. Being such an exposed vessel, Grindsmith has a capability unlike any other Manchester coffee house to provide a diversity of atmospheres dependant upon the weather conditions in which the cafe is encased. I think that each time I go (I do hope to go many times again) the place will have a distinct feel.

Cold-drip Coffee

Their Tea selection is on the left there.

Grindsmith offers little when it comes to food, there was a very small selection of baked goods but they looked rustic and appealing. I wasn't expecting an extensive food menu, nor was I disappointed by its lack. What is pretty darn cool however, is that Grindsmith stock 'Ginger's Comfort Emporium' ice-cream - absolutely the best ice-cream I have ever tasted! (See my review of the cafe in Affleks palace) Marry this with a Grindsmith espresso and you've got an Affogato sent directly from heaven. £3 well spent I'd say - a delightful weekend treat.

The pricing at Grindsmith is nothing unusual, the flat white was £2.50 -  so I'd say toward the upper average of the indie coffee house's going rate. It pains me to pay this much, but for quality coffee it's generally accepted as the norm. I'd rather sparingly visit the likes of Grindsmith and thoroughly enjoy savouring a brew of this quality than pay half the amount for a distinctly average coffee. On another trip I had a Cappuccino, for me it was overly milky and I couldn't taste the coffee well enough. This may be down to my taste: I like coffee strong. However, I'm tempted to say that Grindsmith don't always get it spot on. It often takes an age for them to actually make the coffee and I'm not sure how attentive they are when it comes to the filtered coffee. I give Grindsmith such a positive review because its different, I mean its a pod for god's sake. Yet, it's not the best coffee in the city. I stand by word that it's a great flat white though.

Heavenly Affogato

Seriously though, what a treat!


Take a walk to Greengate Square. Look,  I know the Premiere Inn there is really ugly and a bit of an off-putter, but once inside Grindsmith's coffee haven, you'll forget such an architectural disaster ever happened.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Thoughts #1

Well, here it goes then. My first post. It seems appropriate to start, as they say, as I mean to go on. It is said that men think about sex every seven seconds. It's a statistic that is often bounced around, it's truth value is not clear cut within scientific research. However, the general notion that men basically think about sex most of the time is comparable to my relationship with food. I'd say I'm a reasonably (very) obsessive person - in a good way.

'Obsessive' is laden with negative connotations, but there's buckets of positive light to be shone on this particular attribute. What I'm trying to say is that just because I think about food alot does not mean its an unhealthy habit. Quite the opposite, my attitude is that eating is something we have to do in order to stay alive. There's no choice in the matter. So why not make it as fun as possible? Try new things, make it sociable, experiment - for me food is just as much about it's social and cultural dynamics as much as it is about biological survival. Having said that, as far as survival is concerned, why simply survive and merely get by when you can thrive? I want food to be fresh, tasty and exciting - yes; but that by no means involves sacrificing nutritional value.

Eat well, feel good, laugh often - you know all those quotes people like to splurge all over Pinterest- well some of them are totally true. (Some of them do make me internally wrench though). Balance is my mantra, it has been for a long time. Find that balance of clean eating and indulgence, of alone time and socialising, of exercise and rest - and you're in for a good ride. What and how I eat is an important part of my lifestyle choice as a whole. My diet sits nicely, in a firmly central position, within an energetic pace of life - I take joy in the little things and pride in looking after myself and trying to make myself the best athlete and more important, well-rounded individual, that I can be.