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06 September 2021

Coventry & Manchester: bars, beers, restaurants.

The Gourmet Food Kitchen seems to be a unique idea in UK City of Culture Coventry, launched by local chef Tony Davies (pic. below) 'who has worked in kitchens across Europe.' Located in Fargo Village just out of the centre (Far Gosford Street, Coventry CV1 5ED), which has the feel of a burgeoning trendy boho kind of spot. Tony offers 'a chef table experience' reserved in advance on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for 12 guests only, whether one large group together or a few smaller tables and seated outside when the weather's good, serving up a slow onslaught of seven flavoursome elegant and varied mini-courses across the evening, each one introduced by the chef.
The menus cost £45 to £60 per head depending on the month with £10 non-refundable deposit per person payable upfront. This personalised gourmet restaurant concept appears to be a hit, as they are booked up until the end of the year according to the 'sold out' booking form on their website. It's a bring your own bottle joint too, so you can get a couple or three different wines for the table to try out with the dishes without melt-downing your debit card. Highlights from our dinner in mid July included (from a hazy memory) a dish of three types of pork all beautifully cooked: a nugget of delicious tender fillet, a slice of melt-in-the-mouth smoked belly (and another equally tasty morceau?!); a wee spicy risotto with sea bass; trio of pistachio desserts with a superb ice cream (the pistachio cake was a little dry though) and fab homemade chocolates with coffee. Treat yourselves Cov folk.

Dimitri's Taverna and Meze Bar justifiably describes itself as 'a Manchester Institution' having been around for over 30 years, found nestling at the bottom (or top?) of Deansgate not far from Castlefield. I remember it from the mid 90s to early 2000s, and a recent nostalgia revisit didn't disappoint. Famed for its Greek and Mediterranean Meze platters offering a selection of small dishes, their traditional mains are good too such as Mixed Fish Kebab (£17.50) or Lamb Kebab (£18.50). There's a reliable wine list with something for everyone and some interesting beers too, including the unexpected Shed Head APA from Sweden (4.6%), a hoppy fruity American style Pale Ale (£3.00/£5.75).

Good to see that Atlas Bar at the bottom of Deansgate, one of the original 'new wave' establishments of the 1990s with new owners in 2012 who refurbished the place, is still alive and kicking; even if nowadays its old Manchester railway backdrop is somewhat overshadowed by a cluster of insane Manhattan style skyscrapers (can't decide if I like the look of these or not in this setting, certainly dramatic). The terrace garden out back was as popular as ever on a brief nostalgia visit a few weeks ago, although there's always been a certain attraction to sitting at the front watching the world go by through its huge windows. This timeless bar is styled as a 'restaurant and gin pub café' nowadays, claiming a staggering 500+ gins in stock, although I'd guess you can still get a decent glass of wine if you want (the wine list looked ok) or one of a few tasty draught beers like Beavertown IPA, Brixton Cold Harbour, Inch's or Shipyard Pale Ale.

The Marble Arch Inn is a short walk up the Rochdale Road north of Manchester city centre and is described as 'the birthplace of Marble Brewery' by this owner-brewer (the brewery is now in Salford though). So, in addition to the typical well-made gastropub menu - e.g. fish and chips £11.95 or rump of lamb £14.95 - expect a wide choice of delicious and varied beers, such as the fruity citrusy Lagonda pale ale. There's a fair-sized beer garden out the back too (best to book a table).

Pizza Express Tony Wilson Place, First Street North, Manchester M15. Chanced upon this restaurant, the latest incarnation of this very well-known chain, while exploring a whole new area of Manchester on the edge of the centre just into Hulme, not far from where I lived 20 years ago. This trendy square named after you-know-who is a vast 'leisure space'; for a reminiscer, it's hard to picture what was there before apart from virtually nothing, big crumbling old buildings and wasteland? In any case, full marks to Pizza Express for this shiny new venture with ample outside seating: consistent quality of unflashy flavoursome pizzas and still better than many other pizza places, such as old favourite Fiorentina on a Romana base (new to me: 'a bigger, thinner, crispier 14" pizza') for £12.90 or £10.95 for the 'classic base.' Drink this time was a delicious passion fruit still lemonade (£3.30).

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.