Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dogs 'n' Dough, Manchester

Carefully coiffured males sit cheek to cheek, Gosling-esque arms emerging from their tight V-neck tees, not a trace of five o'clock shadow in sight. Removed from the constraints of their daily lives, these men are here to indulge, to submit themselves to their inner desires - free from judgment and guilt. They speak not of their time here above ground: these men have Tyler Durden's well known rules ingrained into their souls. 

Only, this isn't Fight Club. Nor is it a coming-out story, masquerading as a soft porn webzine.

This, my friends, is Carb Club.

...or at least that's what it felt a little like. Dogs 'n' Dough, an underground, side-street bar and diner, for some unknown reason, appears to be most heavily frequented by preened young men; metrosexuality personified. In my cinematic daydreaming, I came to the conclusion that these fellas must be here to feast as part of a secret society. Gym fiends by day, carb connoisseurs by night.

Whilst these flippant notions are yet to be confirmed, if such outfits do exist, Dogs 'n' Dough would be the meeting venue of choice. The menu, once short but sweet, has now taken a Hulk-like approach to the humble hot dog. Intending to keep punters coming back for more, there's now near-on twenty variations of the things. Personally, I'm a purist - but we happily took a gamble on the Philly Cheese Steak version. It came loaded with peppers, pieces of beef and cheese sauce. The sausage itself is one of the best frankfurter-style ones I've tasted - and that, for me, is why I'll keep it naked next time. I want to taste that meat, not cover it up. If, however, you're somewhat more adventurous than I, then you'll likely be jizzing all over your seat when you see the creations coming out of this kitchen.

'Nuff said on the dogs. Let's not forget the reasoning behind the rest of this joint's name. The dough. No, the staff don't bring out plates of cash - man, what a concept that would be! - but pizzas served straight outta the box, takeaway style. I'll precis this with the fact that over the last few months, I've been treated to pizza cooked in a homemade pizza oven by a man on a mission to perfect the humble slice (a.k.a Bailey of Good Gobble Blog). So, I've eaten a lot of damn good pizza, and sadly, this stuff didn't quite deliver. 

Somewhere, there was a lack of seasoning: hard to work out whether it was the sauce or the base. Another couple of minutes in the oven wouldn't have hurt either. This wasn't a traditional style pizza, and nor, I suppose, is it trying to be. It's not quite the Americanised version either though. Toppings were fine - Jamie chose the Caribbean Dream. I'd like to see how their Margherita compares next time. See: the purist in me pops out, yet again.

Ron Burgundy's the gent on the right. 
The BBQ beans were tasty, although I'm not sure they were homemade. The coleslaw definitely was, and I could eat theirs by the bucket, though a touch less salt here might have my made my liver feel a little happier.

One part of the menu these guys have completed nailed is their cocktails. I was gleeful at spotting the return of an old favourite (from their Corridor days), the Matinee. Unfortunately, they were out of one of the ingredients; no complaints here as I'll happily work my way through this menu. Favourites were the Miss Kitty (rhubarb, lemon, butterscotch), and the Ron Burgundy (Johnny Walker Red, peach bitters, apricot brandy, cinnamon). Yes, it did go down, down, down into our bellies. There's also a decent selection of beers, and the Kona rep was in to give us a full run-through. Their pale ale was my fave - and at less than 6% shouldn't leave you too shit faced. A careful consideration for beers these days.

Dogs 'n' Dough serve food 'til 11pm every night, except Sundays (when it's 'til 9), and have pitched the tone of their offerings just right for punters who fancy a late night bite to eat. Whilst I'm not a massive fan of their pizzas, I seem to be in somewhat of a silo, as others were mighty happy chowing down on these mammoth offerings all night. Hey, you can't please everyone: besides, the dogs 'n' drink are more than enough to keep me going back.

Props to the team for having my favourite looking bar - and menu - in Manchester. These guys know design.

Disclaimer: yup, we were invited for a freebie. Nope, this didn't make me say anything different than if I'd been paying. And I said it to their faces anywayz. Besides, this place is such good value (all pizzas and dogs under a tenner and cocktails at £4.50 in happy hour) that you should make your mind up on it for yourself.

Dogs n Dough on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gincident 2013, by The Liquorists

Awesome photograph taken by the talented  Pete Sheppard of Tone Photographer

The notion of a 'booze cruise' first entered my consciousness at the tender age of thirteen, on a family holiday in the Greek islands. Having previously developed a taste for melon flavoured 20/20, it probably would have been right up my street, had my parents been reckless enough to allow me out of their sight long enough to get cast away. Fortunately the days of teenage holidays with parents are long gone, my penchant for alcopops has developed into a full-blown love affair with good quality spirits, and the concept of a 'booze cruise' has a brand new meaning, thanks to the Liquorists 'Gincident'...
Messa-GIN a bottle. CHORTLE.

By no means seasoned Liquorist trailers, we did once before experience the delights of copious amounts of educational booze on the Ceylon Arrack trail. Though a fun-filled evening, the hopping from bar to bar left us feeling older than our years, and so the idea of a nice long sit down accompanied by gin delights left us experiencing sheer delight that we could both booze and wear slippers.

As soon as we stepped on board the good ship Liquorists, a very fine G&T was thrust into our hands. The boozy tour guides impressed upon us the importance of the Fever Tree tonic. None of that Schweppes shit here, ladies and gents, only the finest on one of these ol' trails. It is actually pretty damn good, and when I'm feeling a little flush I splash out on the good stuff. If it's good enough for Ferran Adria, it's good enough for me. Oh and the G in that tree was Martin Miller's. He does hotels too. Gin and hotels? OF COURSE.

Cured salmon and cucumber. Saved me from a hangover.
We were eased in gently to a night of gin, ensuring we had a good ol' feed. All of the food was served 'sharing style', which was surprisingly tidy considering we were on a floating vehicle, and was also bloody delicious. The best dish of the night was a juniper-cured salmon, served with a delectable cucumber and dill salad. It was so good, the braver-than-I Good Gobble stole a portion from the next table for me. Thanks guys! We also devoured posh chicken wings and a couscous dish served with ham hock, which universally appeared to be the best couscous dish anyone around our table had ever eaten.Whilst it's certainly not about the food on a Liquorists trail, it's good to know it's a whole lot more than an afterthought, and we were ready for our boozing completely sated.

For the uninitiated, the Gincident cruise takes place on a barge, meandering around Manchester's canals. Floating on the water, the cocktails - ya know, the reason why we were here! - are a tasty accompaniment or distraction to the weather out there, so it's worth a trip come rain or shine. We were lucky to be on board on one of the nicest days of the year. OH YEAH, THE COCKTAILS...

Hogarth's Fizz
First up was Hogarth's Fizz. IT WERE REET GOOD. Sorry, that must have been the um, Northern sailor in me. (No, no, not Alan). Something akin to a gin fizz, using Plymouth gin, it was given the Liquorists treatment with an addition of camomile syrup. Now I'm more used to drinking the earth apple (I totally didn't find out that's its other name from Wikipedia. Nope. Not me) before beddy-bos, so I wasn't sure how it was going to slip down in a gin cocktail. The taste, however, was reasonably subtle, and this fella proved to be one of my favourites of the night.

Next up was the um, wittily named Message G-In A Bottle. These guys, they don't just know booze ya know, they know WORDS TOO. And are obvz massive Police fans. Winning all round really. They'd gone to a fair amount of effort with this one, making me feel like the poshest hobo there ever was, drinking out of my specially branded paper bag. It didn't even taste like White Lightning - extra points! Sincerely, it tasted pretty awesome - they'd gone to great lengths to create their own ginger beer, if my memory serves me correctly, mixed with more of the hotelier's gin and a little taste of the Orient with a whisper of Jasmine tea. They don't do things by halves, these boys.

La Floraison D'Etre
Other very drinkable delights came in the form of a Sitting in an English Garden - essentially a better version of here's-one-we-made-earlier using Bloom Gin, with added strawberry liqueur. They'd also got their hands on an even better version of Fever Tree's tonic - this one with elderflower. Basically my favourite edible flower, so I drank this in double quick time...... leaving me not quite so forthcoming when it came to the Blossom Will Be. A pretty little number, using G'Vine gin - but perhaps the addition of white wine didn't sit so well in my delicate-as-a-flower tummy. That was fine though as my table partners happily indulged in extras.

The last cocktail of the night, and the one I'd most been looking forward to, having heard that Jamie Jones - one of the Liquorists moonlighters - had pretty much been crowned the KING OF GIN for was La Floraison D'Etre. G'Vine Floraison - as opposed to their Nouaison used in their earlier cocktail - is mixed with egg white, lemon, olive oil and pink peppercorns. The G'Vine products are a French-style gin; they are therefore made with grape spirit and each of the two have distinctly different flavours. The one in question here offering a more 'floral' and, I suppose, wine-like quality to it, marrying beautifully with the spice from the pepper and the unctuous oil. I expect the cocktail we were served up on the night wasn't quite the same recipe as that which won Jamie Jones the gin crown, but it was a well-balanced drink that was worth the wait.

We were invited on the trail and thus drank for free. Gin can't buy my love though it can buy Jamie's (that's my other half not the gin king), so in the interests of fairness I was tasked with writing up this booze cruise. At £55, it might not sound 'cheap', but I reckon it's bloody good value: five expertly mixed cocktails, a G&T (or two!), food to line the tummy and a tour of the world-renowned (ahem) Manchester canals. Thank God I never did embark upon one of those Ouzo-filled boat trips as a naive teen: good things do come to those who wait...

Go on, book on...who could say no to that jacket? Clearly not the gin king.
The Liquorists have got loads more of these Gincident trips planned. You can book on here!

All photos provided by Tone Photographer (he's alright innee?!).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Hemingway Bar, Prague

Manhattan at Hemingway Bar
I love booze. There, I've said it - that's the first step, right? Jamie loves it too. We're probably doing to die eating cat food because we've spent all our money on Gin Mare and Rip Van Winkle bourbon. Not a bad way to go, I suppose, as long as Heston comes up with a pet food range for Waitrose in the next thirty years. So, we've frequented the majority of Manchester's cocktail bars and now we're moving on to the Continent.

In our experience, upmarket cocktails bars in Europe differ from bars here. There's few places which offer table service, although Proof and Epernay are exceptions, though neither of those are quite as intimate as the places we've visited when abroad. There's nowhere quite like the hostess-seated, Green Door in Berlin, the ring-for-entry art deco space where Miles Davis once played, L'Archiduc in Brussels, or the too-cool-for-menus, El Gimlet in Barcelona. Fortunately, Berry and Rye - a stone's throw away over in Liverpool - is more akin to our favourite holiday haunts.

Maybe it's just the holiday feeling that adds a certain je ne sais quois to the aforementioned bars, and I certainly mean no insult to the places that are serving some damn good drinks here in Manchester. Maybe I just go all pretentious as soon as I'm drinking in another country and want table service ALL THE TIME, certainly no standing and a bartender who looks like he's walked off a 1930s film set. God, I'm demanding, aren't I?

Courtesy of the Hemingway Bar website (it actually looks better than his in real life)

One of the places we found on holiday in Prague which ticked all the boxes was Hemingway Bar. We loved it so much, we managed to squeeze in three trips in our four night stay, and certainly worked our way through a hefty portion of the menu. I knew I'd love it as soon as I read the 'bar rules' on the menu online; some way find them a little arrogant, but having worked as a bartender for a number of years, they're exactly what I like to see when I walk into a place - I'm just not sure if others take as much notice of them.

Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmo - with pistachio foam!
From the attentive and friendly service - we had the same waiter on two of the three nights who was lovely, and had recently started working there after his old place of work flooded! - to the attention to detail in the drinks, we found the place hard to fault. Hardened booze-hound Jamie found some of the drinks too 'watered down' for his English palate, but on the most part they were a delight, even the cocktail which included English mustard!

As I say, we tried a few cocktails over the three days, and learnt they mixed a mean Manhattan and even did justice to some more typically 'girlie' drinks, such as their Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmopolitan. If you enjoy proper cocktails, a spot of table service and even a good ol' shake at your table, Hemingway Bar is worth a trip (or three!) if you're visiting Prague.

Hemingway Bar Praha
Karolíny Světlé 26
Praha 1

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Proof's 'Liquid Brunch'

Oysters: hangover-cure in a half-shell

Brunch. While there's some debate as to the origins of this portmanteau, there can be no debate that it's one of the most overlooked of mealtimes. Originally, brunch was a cure for 'Saturday night carousers'; something not as heavy as a full-on a Sunday roast for the hungover hordes. Though there was no shortage of boozehounds back then, there's just plain more of us now, waking up at the weekend with throbbing heads and rumbling stomachs, looking for the ideal brunch spot. But, where to go? Well, if you live in Chorlton or its environs (hell, even further afield - it's worth the journey) then Proof have stepped up to plate with their Liquid Brunch.

Beet 'n' Bloody
A drawback of most places that offer brunch is the lack of decent liquid refreshment. Sure, you've got your coffee and your fruit juices (maybe, a Bloody Mary at a push and a side of scowl from the bartender) but for those who like to treat their hangovers with more of the devil drink, the options are few and far between. But not at Proof. Thanks to the crack cocktail team, you can get back on the wagon in style with a selection of no less than six brunch-inspired concoctions. From the Margarita-based Holy Guacamole and a twist on the classic Bloody Mary, Best 'n' Bloody, there's something for all manner of ailment. So you don't have to listen to me prattle on about the merits of each one and list their ingredients, I've kindly added a copy of the menu below. Suffice it to say, that Proof have been mixing some of the best drinks in Manchester for years now, and their Liquid Brunch doesn't disappoint.

And it's not all liquid. They serve up three different bagels that will please meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians alike. If you're brave enough, they also do a platter of oysters with all the trimmings. They're keeping it local too with bagels coming from the ever-popular Barbikan and oysters coming from the guys at Out of the Blue. If that doesn't tempt you, the price most certainly will. With a cocktail and a bagel costing just a tenner, or two cocktails for 12 quid, you won't feel to guilty about loosening those purse strings again after a heavy night.

We were guests of Proof and between each member of the group we managed to sip and scoff our way through the entire menu. Pairing a bacon and roasted tomato bagel with a souped-up Bloody Mary is a must; the Holy Guacamole with, you guessed it, homemade guacamole was a surprise hit; and if you like something less savoury the Brunch Martini is a sophisticated alternative. 

Liquid Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm.

30a Manchester Road
M21 9PH

The menu: get browsing

Friday, 1 March 2013

Berry & Rye, Liverpool

1920s America: terrible racism, organized crime, and a brief post-war recession aside, I sometimes like to think I’d have enjoyed living in the USA during the Prohibition era. Imagine a time when the humdrum activity of going to a bar was charged with the excitement of illegality; a time when the mere act of raising a pint to your lips was tantamount to ‘sticking it to the man’; a time when bars were secretive, underground and un-signposted.

Nostalgia can of course be a terrible thing. Let’s make one thing clear - the booze would have been dire, knocked up by your neighbour in the same bathtub in which he washed his dog or, worse still, the poisonous “canned heat” made from roughly filtering Sterno, a type of jellied alcohol-based fuel. I very much doubt a good Manhattan would have been easy to come by.

So we come to Berry and Rye, a bar which casts its eye back to the speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties for its aesthetic; but has living, breathing 21st century bartenders with a plentiful supply of excellent spirits and formidable cocktail knowledge. No need to worry about the rising membership of the Ku Klux Clan or why all the good writers are emigrating to Europe, just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere

If this weren't such a great bar, I’d be loath to recommend it, lest its obscurity be compromised in the least of ways. But it is that good: a breath of fresh air, the kind of bar I own in my dreams, the kind of bar you can normally visit only after buying a ticket to Berlin or Barcelona.

So, it’s a Thursday night in Liverpool, Anna and I, braced against the biting wind, wander down Berry Street past the legion of Chinese takeaways and fried-chicken shops looking for a number. We approach an unassuming black doorway behind which we can faintly hear some sign of life. Is this it? I open the door, breast-stroke through the heavy black curtain, and feel like I've stepped back in time. Well, except for the fashion.

Anna goes to the bar to ask for menu only to find out there isn't one: surely, a good omen. So we take a seat in an intimate booth, the waiter brings over some water, perches beside us and asks us what we’d like to drink. Anna is in the mood for whiskey and I for gin, so after some querying and several suggestions we settle one a Volstead Act and a Martinez.

The former, named after the piece of legislation that established prohibition, is a blend of bourbon, sweet vermouth, white cacao, and bitters. The latter is a classic cocktail of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino and, usually, orange bitters; if you like a Negroni then the omission of the bitter Campari for the nutty, floral, cherry notes of maraschino. Both were smooth and expertly mixed.

With drinks ordered, we could soak up the sights and sounds: the place is moodily lit by exposed-filament bulbs, rail-road lanterns and candles which give the place an old-timey feel, as do the antique photographs and the tunes playing over the speakers. Then the piano keys begin to tinkle a jazz standard and we both sense that our dinner plans have just been cancelled. Not that we particularly want to stave off hunger, but the prospect of going outside, back to reality, has immediately become abhorrent.

So we order another round with the able assistance of our waiter. I fancy a dirty Martini and am nudged in the direction of Chase gin, a British gin made exclusively from apples which are fermented into cider then distilled into vodka. The usual flavourings of juniper and coriander are apparent with some more unique characteristics of hops and bramley apples. It’s a full-bodied crisp gin which stands up well to the salty olive brine. Anna chooses a Sazerac, a drink guaranteed to intoxicate the most hardened booze-hound. Rinse and coat a glass with Absinthe, then stir bitters, cognac and bourbon over ice, then strain into aforementioned glass. Needless to say, we took our time over these.

Forgive me if I slip into 1920s parlance for a brief moment. On accounts of being ‘spifflicated’ as we were, we were all ‘goofy’ and there was no chance we’d be ‘getting our wiggle on’ soon so we decided to order some more of that ‘giggle water’. To cap off the night, Anna ordered another Volstead Act and I went for what I think the waiter called a Holland, being that it was made from Dutch gin or Jenever. I didn't have the wherewithal to ask which Jenever and am struggling to recall the ingredients; however, it tasted in my mind like a gin old-fashioned, with the Jenever imparting a malty, creamy mouth-feel. I’m sure I will find out more on my next visit.

This place is low-profile on the Liverpool bar scene so I can only imagine how well-known it is in Manchester. Now the secret's out.

Berry & Rye
48 Berry Street
L1 4JQ

Friday, 8 February 2013

Épernay Champagne bar

Despite having worked within hospitality in Manchester for a combined total of nigh on 14 years, both Jamie and I have - somehow - managed to totally bypass Épernay. I think this is in part due to my false belief that it was associated with a Birmingham bar of the same name, where I once had the er, pleasure of having an interview with the most socially awkward manager I've ever met. Fortunately, our wrongs have now been righted, and we visited last Thursday for a lovely evening of champagne & cocktails.

To find out more about what we thought take a look at our review over at Social & Cocktail.

Épernay Champagne bar

Unit 1A, The Great Northern Towers
Watson Street, Manchester, M3 4EE
0161 834 8802