Fazenda, Manchester

As a rare treat for my birthday, three of us from the team at The Fermentation Vessel assembled in Manchester. The main event was in fact a Vintage Riesling tasting (stay tuned for that), however to whet our collective appetites we decided to make a trip out into Manchester for a spot of lunch.

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Fazenda is situated in the heart of the city’s trendy Spinningfields area, its sleek black and glass frontage setting it out from the numerous other bars and restaurants in the area. Fazenda sets itself out as a traditional Brazilian Rodizio with a unique modern and classy flair. For those who have never experienced Rodizio dining, it is, in effect an all you can eat meat experience. Where Fazenda really makes its mark is in elevating this rather vulgar concept into something that oozes class.

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The decor, making further use of plate glass and black just works. I’m no interior designer but they really hit the nail straight on the head there and from the moment you step foot inside you know this place means business. The restaurant employs a very simple red/green traffic light system to indicate whether you are ready for more meat. Passadores (Meat Chefs) tour tables dressed in smart red shirts, bearing delicious skewers of fine cuts of meat and offer each person a cut from their skewer. Being a lunchtime, they offer a cut down service of meat, however for us this was still ample, and by no means was the quality lacking. I particularly enjoyed their signature meat – the Picanha (cap of rump) – that was deliciously juicy. Other notable meats were the pork belly – something I often find too fatty, but in this instance was just perfect, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and the gammon – or perhaps more so the pineapple with it that was just superb. It was so good that just the mere thought of it makes me salivate!

Being wine enthusiasts we were delighted to find that in addition to Fazenda’s standard wine menu, was a cellar full of fine wines, something we were only too happy to take a look at! As soon as we made our intentions aware to the staff, we were greeted by a most knowledgeable sommelier, whose enthusiasm rivalled our own, and offered us plenty of interesting information about the wines they had on offer. It was really refreshing to find someone so knowledgeable in a restaurant outside of the Michelin guide. We were even able to sample some of the other wines in their collection, by means of a most excellent device – the Coravin (a portable device with a needle for sampling and an inert gas canister for keeping the wine fresh). Looking at Fazenda’s website they do frequent tasting events. This is something I will be looking into in the near future.

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There is a clear and understandable bias towards South American wines at Fazenda. This provided us with some interesting wines that are otherwise not quite so well known. We finally settled on a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon by Catena Zapata from Argentina. I won’t go into too much detail here, however suffice to say it was a hard hitting full bodied wine that easily went down at 90 points. It isn’t the easiest wine to get hold of commercially, but I would recommend picking some up if you chance upon it!

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To finish the meal I was brought a slice of birthday cake with a firework in it no less! It was a lovely little touch with which to finish an excellent meal. To quote Michael Broadbent: “Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.” I will most certainly be back to the restaurant in good time and I recommend you give it a try if you’re in and around.

 

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Pinxos Party with Casa Rojo

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As some readers may already know, I recently celebrated my birthday. As a special treat, my better half arranged for us to attend a Pinxos party, pared with wines from the Spanish producer Casa Rojo at the superb and independent TNQ restaurant, located in the heart of Manchester’s bustling Northern Quarter. Its Kitchen headed up by chef Anthony Fielden, TNQ has established itself as a leading light in the area for locally sourced fine dining with a modern Manchester twist. Introducing the wines was David Kelly from Matthew Clark and credit must go to him for a most interesting description of the wines.

What are Pinxos you say? That is a very good question, and I will admit, prior to the evenings events, I had never come across the term before. It is in fact a Basque term that comes from the word “pinchar” which means “to pierce”. Indeed the phrase came about as Pinxos were traditionally served on the end of a cocktail stick. For this evening however, the humble snack food was elevated to a whole new level, with some truly stunning morsels, but more on that later. The scene was completed by a Spanish guitarist and with beautiful accompanying Spanish wines; you could imagine yourself transported to a sunny terrace in the Spanish countryside.

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Some of the team at Casa Rojo

Casa Rojo is a relatively small producer, tracing its roots back to José Rojo’s first wine in 1920. Casa Rojo offers a range of eight different wines from eight denominations within Spain. The youthful and dynamic team assembled has a simple ethos at its core: showcase the very best of each grape by meticulous attention to detail as well as real passion for the wine, something apparent in abundance even before opening a bottle. Each wine – and indeed each vintage thereof, has a unique label created by local artists to reflect the nature of the wine. The end result are bottles that not only look inviting and fun, but actually do bear real semblance to the wine therein as well as reaffirming the commitment of Casa Rojo to the individuals and local folks involved with the growing of the grapes.

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Casa Rojo’s current lineup

Wines Tasted: Moltó Negre Cava, El Gordo (del circo) Rueda, La Marimorena Rías Baixas, Maquinon Priorat, Macho Man Monastrell Jumilla

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Dinner at The Cherwell Boathouse, Oxford

 

Oxford is a vibrant city, characterised by its tradition, grandeur and architecture. Surprisingly, its restaurant scene is limited to only a handful of fine dining establishments, making it difficult to identify reasonable wine lists.

Thank goodness for the Cherwell Boathouse. This restaurant, set on the banks of the Cherwell River, boasts an impressive list of boutique rarities and expensive greats (note the love poem to, and 7 listed wines from Domaine des Comtes Lafon).

The list is impressive not only because of its variety, but because of the pricing.  Usually, I despair when paying £25 for a bottle of distinctly average Chianti at the local Italian trattoria. However the Cherwell appears to make a policy of limiting price ups to twice the retail value. So, I was tempted to pay a little extra for a lot more.

We started with an aperitif of English sparkling wine and Champagne. We tasted these semi-blind (we knew which wines were present but not which was which). My tasting notes are below:

Pol Roger (NV)

Pretty nose, lightly floral with baked apple. Great acidity on the attack, some white fruit and a little honey on the finish. Not long, but pleasing. 89 points. (Note: I guessed this was the English sparkling wine)

Gusbourne Brut, Kent 2009

Baked apple again, but more open on the nose, with richness and brioche. Great acidity, developing into white fruit and some nuttiness on the finish. 90 points.

There were only 2 of us at the dinner, so we decided to choose 2 half bottles. To go with octopus carpaccio we chose Chablis:

Domaine du Colombier, Chablis, 2012

Good entry level Chablis. Focussed, balanced minerality with peachy white fruit. 88 points

Tempted by the passionate sommelier, we chose an Oregon Pinot noir to pair with lamb:

Domaine Drouhin, Dundee hills, pinot noir 2013

Burgundian start, delicious ripe red fruit. Cherry and raspberry in particular. Some complexity from 10 months in barrel and the transition to mellow vanilla-tasting American oak on the finish was lovely. Very pure and not over-extracted. 93 points.

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This was a delightful experience; good wine at an affordable price. Learning point: I need to drink more Oregon Pinot.