WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

01 December 2002

Choice bar & restaurant, Manchester

Wine magazine (UK) December 2002 issue:
Choice bar & restaurant, Castle Quay, Manchester M15 4NT.
0161 833 3400, www.choicemcr.co.uk
Restaurant 4/5 Wine list 4.5/5

Its short and sweet name gets the juices flowing: so is the selection worthy at Choice bar & restaurant? This smart and clear-cut establishment has been open for a year but is perhaps overlooked, tucked away under Castle Quay by the canal in Manchester’s redeveloped Castlefield area. The restaurant elegantly oozes exposed old brick, cream and dark wood; the bar is similar with wines on display in a glass cabinet.

Having frequented the place once before, I’d noted the excellent wine list. This time we were told it had been “stream-lined,” but nevertheless the choice is still wide reaching with all wines available by the glass, although it can work out rather pricey thus. There are five house wines, ten whites and ten reds – covering France and Australia primarily with offerings from Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, California and Lebanon – plus reasonable options on sparkling, sweeties and Ports etc.

For starters I ordered green-lipped mussels (£3.95) served on fresh tasting sun-dried tomato bread with olives, roquette and decent olive oil dressing. The mussels were savoury and meaty but cold; I’d have preferred them warm. We decided to drink different wines by the glass with each dish. With the above I matched Bethany Riesling 2001 from Barossa (£16 bottle, £5.50 250ml, £4.50 175ml): its ripe lime, oil and mineral notes with zingy acidity worked quite well. My companion chose 2000 Pouilly Fumé Domaine des Berthiers (£20, £7.50, £6.50) to go with a salad of smoked trout and quails eggs drizzled with a splendid piccalilli sauce (£3.95), whose pungent but ripe gooseberry fruit and dry mineral length charmed the fleshy and not too salty or smoky fish; the only criticism was “a little overdone.” The starters were speedily delivered on huge plate-cum-bowls, beautifully presented as were all the courses.

For main I had lovely succulent slices of duck breast (although the skin could’ve been crispier) in a tangy blackberry sauce (£12.95). These were stacked on top of very buttery spinach and crunchy red onion. The Tyrrell’s 2001 Pinot Noir (£19, £7, £6) was OK, showing aromatic cherry fruit and a bit lean in its youth, but not as good as the Oregon Pinot on the previous visit. Across the table a glass of Château Musar 96 (£26, £8.50, £7.50) seduced with gorgeous rustic sweet berry fruit, full body yet soft tannins. This coped admirably with a generous pile of juicy pork chops on herby potatoes and creamy sauce (£11.95), although the latter was made dairy-free as a special dietary request.

The attention span of the (only two) staff had lessened by this stage, as it took a while to get the plates cleared and dessert menus in hand. We settled for one sweet as the low-on-dairy options had gone: Manchester tartlet (£3.95) coupled with Bonterra Muscat from California (£1.75 per 50ml) seemed appropriate. The pastry was a bit tough but the custard, jam, coconut and banana filling stayed with me.

More HOT... or hotter still?

A couple of bar reviews first published in 'Harpers On-trade' (November and December 2002 issues): The Player, Ashton-Under-Lyne & Cosmopolitan Spirit, Manchester. More articles published in HOT and Harpers Wine & Spirit here (on 'French Med Wine'). And another couple of short posts: More HOT here (sushi & licensing).

Cosmopolitan Spirit, 19 Brown Street, Manchester M2 (0161 834 7690).

Bar Manager: Nicola Copeland.
Opening hours: bar 11-23.00, restaurant 12-15.00 & 18-22.00, takeaway 8-15.00.
Capacity: bar 100+, restaurant 50 covers.

Despite being a stone’s throw from Market Street and the lovely Arndale, this site has potential given the surrounding offices and proximity to hip King Street. This is no ordinary establishment: brandishing the Cosmo trademark, here you can drink, eat and visit their beauty spa downstairs. How glamorous, just like the two chicly dressed women who also frequented the place on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Funky music and the sensuous smell of new leather proved welcoming: a row of comfortable beige leather benches occupies the centre, parallel to the light wood bar. The raised section stands out in sunset orange dotted with wilder orange, cute pouffes. The bar was well-stocked to service the very good cocktail list: this features 5 ‘Signature’ drinks including Sunshine Cosmopolitan (lime, mango purée, Pölstar Sitróna) and 30 ‘Martinis’, ‘Classics’ and ‘Contemporary’ (all £5.90) plus 5 ‘Champagne’ (£6.90). A decent wine list offers reds priced from £11.50 to Amarone at £45 and whites from £10.25 to £55 for Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru. The choice of bottled beers is also fair including Freedom Organic (£3).


The Player, 21-25 Old Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne, tel/fax 0161 339 0929.

Bar manager: Nina Wood.
Opening hours: 12pm – 11pm, applied for 1am extension Thurs-Sat and 12.30 Sunday.
Capacity: 300.

The Player is located just off Ashton’s old market square cum 70s-style hideous shopping centre. The bar was formerly Revolution and Chester’s now knocked into one and is owned by the former group. It looks meticulously new with highly polished, dark-stained wooden flooring and elongated bar counters. Add to this brown leather-look settees, stylish Japanese wall lights and pretty déco window above the pool table, which create a comfortable roomy atmosphere. The multiple TV screens rather jar with this and inevitably will offer live football.
Few surprises behind the bar: an uninspiring workmanlike selection of beers fills the fridges alongside the usual colours of mixers. However they do propose six cocktail pitchers to share such as ‘Chambulls’ (£12) – vodka, sparkling wine and Red Bull – and a full cocktail list is coming. Wine is limited to two whites and two reds (good value at least at under £10 a bottle) plus two Champagnes. Overall the Player has a whiff of chain marketing about it but feels smarter and cosier than many despite its size.

01 November 2002

Feature on Portugal, Off Licence News

It's HERE actually (Portugal archive page, towards the bottom of the page)...

20 September 2002

Bordeaux feature Off Licence News

Bordeaux feature - this piece appeared in the 20th September 2002 edition of Off Licence News: CLICK HERE (towards bottom of the page)...

01 September 2002

HOT harpers on-trade: sushi & licensing in Manchester

HOT: harpers on-trade September 2002 (issue 25)

A brief investigation into, and review of sushi restaurants in Manchester... Plus a few thoughts on licensing policy and growth of late bars in the city centre...

Miyako (50 Faulkner Street M1, 0161 228 1215) snuggles up, almost unnoticed, shoulder-to-shoulder with the myriad, densely packed and diverse restaurants, bakers and grocers that form Manchester’s China Town. It’s one of a small but growing handful of Japanese & sushi restaurants in the city centre, which includes Teppanyaki around the corner and newcomer Samsi Yakitori on Whitworth Street; plus Pan Asia, Wagamama and Tampopo who serve some Japanese dishes. Out of town is Sakura in West Didsbury and a few others in the metropolitan area.
Miyako has been open for five years and is small modest but relaxed and authentic-feeling. The head chef Eduardo Con-Ui, or Eddie as he introduces himself, has worked at the Hyatt in Dubai and as chef for Japanese Steel. He commented: “Teppanyaki cooking, which is new-ish in the UK and only developed over the last 10-15 years, has become the main focus but is less traditional.” However their sushi selection is impressive proposing a main list of 15-20 dishes, and the full range extends to over 30 including more exotic seafood, some of which is graded as ‘challenging’. “It’s seasonal too and depends on the market, as much of it is from tropical countries; salmon and mackerel we can get locally.” The market Eddie refers to is the celebrated Smithfield in Manchester, where he goes in the morning twice or so a week.
The core sushi menu features freshwater eel, prawns, giant clam, salmon, salmon roe, tuna and scallops, for example. These are priced from £5.50 for squid or crabsticks, £6 for four pieces of tuna or snapper, shrimp £7.50, to queen fish, eel or octopus at £10; and £11 for akagai (ark shell), which looks like an extra from Alien. Other ‘challenging’ species are ika (cuttlefish), kohada (gizzard-shad) and shako (squilla). “People who are familiar with sushi try these, and I have to order them in sometimes.” The dishes are all made on the premises: “it depends on the fish, tuna is prepared in a different way to shellfish for example.”
Being located close to numerous offices, and increasingly new apartments and hotels, also means a burgeoning take-away trade for Miyako. Their main menu is available at lower prices than the sit-down including the stunning looking Japanese platter, which is ordered in advance. The potential for sushi restaurants in general seems sound, as the market in Greater Manchester is by no means saturated.

*****

If you happen to be near Peter Street, Deansgate Locks or the Village (‘gay district’ around Canal Street) after 2am on Friday or Saturday night, the sheer quantity of partied people roaming the streets must surely confirm that there are more bars open late in Manchester. A few years ago this was the prerogative of clubs; is there a trend towards late-licensed bars – whether exclusive, cavernous or plain raucous – taking over as the preferred venue for ‘after hours’ drinking and dancing?
Manchester City Council appears liberal with its newfound freedom in granting licences, as many new premises open their doors to 2am Thursday to Saturday from day one. Local brewer cum bar owner J.W Lees holds a dozen late licences including Rain Bar, Rembrandt, Velvet Underground, South and John Willie Lees. Managing director William Lees-Jones condoned MCC’s policy in glowing terms: “…Council has been tremendous in supporting the development of Manchester as a city embracing licensed premises and residential use. This is making people come back into the city centre after years of no one really living there.”
Mark Cain – proprietor of stylish Velvet bar & restaurant, which opened six years ago on Canal Street – made some interesting points about other possible consequences. “We were advised to run to 11 then go later; we waited a year to bed ourselves in. All recent ones are automatically to 2 as par for the course. It’s a way of making a quick buck…(many places) are busy Friday and Saturday but not the rest of the week. It’s fickle: we’ve seen more bars going to the wall trading solely on late weekend trade…it’s changed the nature of bar going with a loss of diversity.”
City centre residents are rightfully demanding more input into licensing activities, so noise and trouble issues are properly considered, and the council claims to be listening. Lees-Jones added: “People must remember why they moved back into the centre in the first place and that the city needs bars to keep their rates down and services in place.” In addition the concentration of late bars in areas like those mentioned above has arguably alleviated the problem of crowds spilling out at the same time, and by spreading them around the city. There’s also little doubt this has effected clubbing life in the city, and we’re witnessing the development of perhaps a new genre of establishment such as One Central Street, which aspires to bar/restaurant/club status.


01 February 2002

Château Falfas: "biodynamic in Bordeaux"

"This fetching, subtly grand yet unpretentious and workmanlike property is owned by John and Véronique Cochran and is located near Bayon in the Côtes de Bourg appellation to the northeast of Bordeaux on the Right Bank. This area isn’t known for great quality and hence its wines don’t command high prices, but that doesn’t do justice to certain individual estates which are reaching to applaud-worthy heights. Château Falfas is one of them and also unique in Bordeaux, as it's been run on biodynamic principles since 1988, thus joining such illustrious names as Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, Huet in Vouvray and Chapoutier in the Rhône..."
Read it HERE.