Thursday, 31 January 2013

Peli Deli, Matlock, Derbyshire

I might, whisper it, be leaving the North. Last time I did that I moved to south east London. Nothing quite so drastic is on the cards this time but it's highly likely I shall end up residing in that strange netherworld known as the MIDLANDS.

Not ideal for a blog named Northern Food, especially when I've already had to ditch the M62 bit, my preferred transpennine route being the Woodhead pass these days. I shall probably get away with it though, Chesterfield is hardly in Kent now is it?

The upshot of all this upheaval is that I'll be blogging from Derbyshire with increasing frequency, and what better place to start than Matlock. An exploratory trip to the region ended up with us stopping for lunch there, with Peli Deli looking like the best of a limited supply of cafés (it was a Sunday afternoon, and much of the town was closed).

It turned out ok, but I wouldn't rush back. A flat white was more like a latte with a pattern on top, too big and milky and lacking that beautiful velvety texture you get from a good example.

A salt beef sandwich brought generous slices of high quality, tender meat in fresh, nutty bread. All good but let down by the use of some sort of spread rather than butter, and a bright but completely undressed side salad. 

It's not cheap here, but I suppose Matlock is one of the pricier parts of Derbyshire. £4.25 for the salt beef sarnie, £2.40 for the coffee, and over a fiver for A's cheese and ham panini.


1 Jubilee Buildings
Crown Square
DE4 3AT 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Zara's, Crookes, Sheffield

There are few better ways to get over a preconception or prejudice about food than a blind taste test, which is how our meal at Zara's got off to an unexpectedly good start.

If you'd asked me to pass comment on an Indian restaurant that boasted of its 'adventurous chef's specials', then went on to present me with a tray of chutneys in an unlikely combination of fruity flavours I'd tell you it was in all likelihood a load of gimmicky rubbish, and that the food would be crap. There's plenty of precedent for this, nonsense being a particularly speciality of 'Indian' restaurants trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.

One particular example springs to mind, a restaurant where the food was described in indulgent detail, beautifully presented, and brought to the table by the chef himself who introduced himself to my mother by kissing her hand. Shame it all tasted like shit.

Back to Zara's, the chutneys here were presented without fanfare alongside a plate of poppadums and dishes of the regular quartet of curry house offerings (yoghurty, oniony, lime pickle, sugary mango). We proceeded to really enjoy their balanced, interesting flavours whilst failing miserably to identify the contents of all but one. As it turned out they were apple and coriander, tamarind (I got that one right), mango and apricot, and date and coconut.

Grills for starters proper showed a fair bit of skill; seekh kebabs, chicken tikka and tandoori wings were all deftly cooked and properly spiced with no unnecessary colouring. The seekh kebab was particularly good.

Curries, both from the 'Chef's specials' part of the menu, were satisfying if not as good as what went before. One contained shatkora, a lip curlingly bitter-sour citrus fruit apparently used as a flavouring in a lot of Bangladeshi food. I liked it but only in small doses, more than a few mouthfuls being a bit overbearing.

The other was a lamb dish, allegedly Goan style, that was intensely flavoured with mustard seeds and quite strong, gamey meat. I liked this too but the thick, slightly too oily sauce did seem a bit off-kilter with the spicing that would have suited a thinner, soupier curry.

Accompaniments, like the rest of the meal, veered between excellent and just ok. Peas pilau was a fine bowl of rice, rich with plenty of tempered spice including cumin and cinnamon. On the other hand the naan bread was a bit limp.

Zara's is certainly a cut above your average high street curry house and some things are done very well. Did I mention they also do some really nice fruity chutneys? Service was fine but the food did take an age to arrive. We paid £46 for pickles, poppadums, starters, mains, sides and two large bottles of beer to share.


216a Crookes
S10 1TH

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Graze Inn, Ecclesall Road, Sheffield

Graze Inn is the most recent opening from the Thornbridge stable, who seem to be taking over pubs, bars and restaurants in the city with increasing frequency. To my mind this is generally a good thing, as my experiences so far suggest they run a quality operation.

It's not my favourite one of the bunch, the sleek modern styling isn't really my cup of tea and all the grey felt a bit cold and unwelcoming on a snowy January day. The menu is a bit of mish mash of current foodie trends, with a particular focus on rotisserie chicken and 'British flats', as in the same thing 'invented' by Jamie Oliver proto-chain Union Jack's a year or so ago. That thing being a pizza, basically.

Now that I've finished being snarky about the concept I should point out that this is another good quality operation. Who actually cares if I don't much like the menu or decor if the food is worth eating?

A basket of bread with oil and vinegar was an unexpected treat, not something you'd expect at a casual restaurant where main courses are under a tenner. Best of the three were the slices from a nutty granary loaf.

A half rotisserie chicken with a choice of any three sides is keenly priced at £9, the chicken not being of the very finest quality but cooked well with bronzed skin and moist flesh, even throughout the breast.

The sides were all good too, the pick of the bunch being more-ish sweet potato fries and a well dressed salad. It was nice to have a bowl of proper frites for the regular fries too, rather than the chunky irritations that are so hard to avoid these days.

Service was efficient and the bill just £26 for a whole chicken, six sides, a pint of well kept ale and a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. To sum up, it's a bit like a new chain place opened by any of the usual corporate suspects, but with better food and better booze at prices that are more than reasonable. And that can only be a good thing.


315-319 Ecclesall Road
S11 8NX

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Café Moor, Leeds Kirkgate Market

Last time I wrote about the market I was a bit negative about the current state of affairs regarding the redevelopment saga, so it's time to redress the balance and talk about the good things that are happening.

Credit where it's due, the management team (or whoever is responsible for getting stalls let to new businesses) are doing a good job on the food and drink front. The range of places to eat in the market has improved immeasurably over the last year or two, and progress on this front shows no sign of abating.

To add to May's Recipes, Maxi's Rotisserie, the rotating occupiers at the Source, the Turkish stall and the Caribbean one we now have Café Moor, perhaps the most high profile of the recent openings. As an aside, can anyone recommend any of the traditional market caffs, some of them must be good and they deserve attention too?

Café Moor have taken the big stall right inside one of the main Vicar Lane entrances, in the pretty part of the market, and have made an effort to make the place look the part, draping the stall with carpets and putting on an attractive display of hummous, salads and such-like.

Shawarma and falafel are the name of the game, wraps of either are just three quid including salads and sauces. The falafel wrap I had was faultless, as good as any I had in the Middle East the other year. Frying the little balls of goodness to order is the key, the result being fresh, light and nutty as opposed to the leaden, mealy golf balls you end up with when they've sat around all day.

Chilli sauce and hummous were also exemplary, clearly home-made rather than bought in, and the salad extends to at least seven or eight different items including some quality pickles. Good, stretchy wrap bread too.

The guys running the place are friendly, the food is lovely and the price is right. Give it a try.


1904 Hall
Kirkgate Market

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A Gammon Joint

For various reasons I need to be more frugal this January than most. Never the most extravagant time of year anyway, this is always the month for making a little go a long way.

Cooking a huge joint of meat is hardly the first thing that springs to mind then, roasting a ham being much more associated with the festivities that have long since concluded. But downgrade a little, from a whole ham to a boned and rolled gammon joint, and you'll get a huge quantity of meat for very little money.

I bought a joint weighing around 1.4 kgs for just eleven quid (on special offer at M & S), and so far it's been at the centre of three main meals, formed a vital component of another, and turned up in at least six rounds of sandwiches. It's longevity is such that, whisper it, I might be getting a bit sick of the stuff. There's still some in the fridge that I can't seem to shift.

The original plan was to boil it and nothing more, but we couldn't resist giving it a roasting to add a bit of caramelised flavour to the fat. I'm not sure it was necessary, but I also gave it a good rinse under the tap before boiling as I'd rather the finished meat be under-salted than over. Here's what to do:

Rinse your gammon under the tap to remove any excess salt, then put it in a big pot full of water with an onion cut in half (you can leave the skin on), two celery sticks, two bay leaves, two cloves and about 8-10 black peppercorns. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 70 minutes.

Remove the gammon from the pot and leave it to cool for ten minutes. Set the oven at about 170 deg C. When the meat has cooled a bit score the fat in a cross hatch pattern, then place it in a roasting tin. Make a marinade from two tablespoons of runny honey mixed with one tablespoon of mustard (any type you fancy) then smear it all over your meat and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Easy peasy. The end result was a fridge full of lovely, versatile, savoury but not salty meat, with a good porky flavour to play with. Here's what I made with mine, bear in mind that these aren't so much proper recipes as descriptions.

Gammon, parsley sauce, mash and peas

What you'll need: potatoes, butter, milk, flour, peas, fresh parsley, fat slices of gammon, salt and pepper

Serve thick slices of gammon with parsley sauce, mash and peas. This meal was why I bought it in the first place, I've never cooked it before and having been meaning to for ages. I was really pleased with it, it's a gentle soothing sort of a meal but very satisfying on a cold night.

For the parsley sauce you need to make a roux with flour and butter, then keep stirring in milk until you have a thick-ish sauce, and finally stir in plenty of seasoning and a big handful of finely chopped parsley. The rest is self explanatory, just make sure you make the soft, fluffy, only moderately buttery sort of mash as the restaurateurs super-rich butterbomb variety would be too much here.

Plaice with gammon and parsley

What you'll need: fillets of white fish, gammon, fresh parsley, a lemon, butter, salt and pepper, bread to serve

This one was a very quick supper, I did have to buy fresh fish so it wasn't quite so frugal but I did make use of both leftover gammon and parsley.

Chop some gammon up into one centimetre chunks and chop a small handful of parsley. Season two small fillets of plaice (or any other comparable white fish) then fry them, skin side down first in a little bit of oil.  Throw the gammon pieces in the pan while the fish is still skin side down. Turn the fillets and cook on the other side until they're just about cooked through, then turn them back over again. Throw in the parsley and a big knob of butter. Shake the pan to mix and melt the butter with the parsley and the pan juices then slide the lot out onto a plate. Squeeze over some lemon juice, then serve immediately with bread, salad, or both.

Ham sandwiches

What you'll need: err..bread, ham, mustard, salad. And butter of course.

Sandwiches had to get a look in didn't they. Very thinly sliced gammon with cream cheese on soft white rolls were pretty good, but thicker slices with a generous smear of mustard with salad on crusty bread had to be the winner.

Gammon and cabbage fry

What you'll need: potatoes, cabbage, oil, salt, pepper, sauce, more GAMMON

Another one pan tea, this one takes a little longer to cook but is really no effort. Cut 4 or 5 medium sized potatoes into small (about one centimetre) cubes then fry them in oil until they're brown and almost tender (mine took around twenty minutes). While the potatoes are frying slice up a couple of handfuls of savoy cabbage and tear a big handful of sliced gammon into smaller pieces. When the potatoes are almost ready stir in the cabbage and fry for another five minutes or so, then add the gammon and fry for five minutes more.

The potatoes should have a good exterior crunch balanced by the soft ham and cabbage, though I still like a bit of bite left in the cabbage, you don't want it mushy. Serve very hot, with a table sauce of some sort (I had Heinz chilli tomato ketchup).

Ham and beans 

What you'll need: loads of gammon, assorted beans (2 or 3 tins), a tin of tomatoes, garlic, an onion, a celery stick, paprika, chilli powder, bay leaves, tomato puree, black treacle. Bread and slaw to serve.

Last but not least, the real store cupboard contender. This is the one to make when you're snowed in. Which is a shame, because that's looking possible over the weekend and I've just eaten it all. For best results you should cook dried beans from scratch, but tins will do if that's what you've got. That's what I had: in went one tin of kidney beans, one tin of tomatoes and a small tin each of borlotti and canellini beans.

Slice the onion and fry it in oil in a heavy based pot (that has a lid) over a medium heat. In the meantime crush 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and cut a good quantity of gammon (100g per person is plenty) into 1-2 inch chunks. Open your tins and drain and rinse the beans. Cut the celery stick in half and add it to the pot with the garlic, and fry for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, two teaspoons of paprika, one teaspoon of chilli powder, two bay leaves, a dessertspoon of tomato puree and a tablespoon of black treacle. Stir and bring to a simmer, adding a good splash of water to loosen it. Add the drained beans and gammon chunks to the pot, stir then put the lid on and reduce the heat so it gently putters away.

This should be cooked until the meat and beans are just on the verge of disintegrating into the sauce. Not so long that you end up with a single textured sludge, but just long enough to let the meat fall apart in moist, fibrous strands, all the fatty tissue having leached out to enrich your sauce that's already been thickened by the starchy beans. If that's what you end up with it should be a treat. Mine took almost an hour and a half to reach the point of optimum goodness.

Serve with bread and homemade slaw. I made pitta bread using a basic bread recipe with a knob of butter added (always butter, always). When your dough has risen just roll it out into oval shapes and bake them in a hot oven for about 8 minutes. For the slaw slice celeriac and cabbage (I used savoy but white would have been better) very finely and toss it with greek yoghurt, grain mustard and lemon juice. The bite, heat and freshness is a fantastic contrast to the earthy warmth of the beans.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Marmadukes Café Deli, Sheffield

A Twitter recommendation brought me to Marmadukes in search of good coffee. They use a Monmouth espresso blend and that quality really shines through. My flat white was a beauty, smooth with a bold, fruity flavour. Excellent stuff.

Other than the coffee there are good looking cakes, sandwiches, savouries and salads to be had, and the café is an attractive place to sit for a while, either inside or at one of a few tables outside on Norfolk Row, a pleasant pedestrianised side street. Blankets are provided to keep out the chill, a nice touch.

I ate on this visit too, quiche lorraine and salad. The quiche was perfectly fine but the salad was no more than a garnish. If you're charging £1.50 extra for salad, then a spoonful of some of the proper salads behind the counter might be a more appropriate choice than a very small handful of limp leaves, even if they are properly dressed.

The added leaves brought the cost of the food up to six quid, which I wouldn't take issue with at all if it was a proper plate of savoury with salads, but it wasn't that. The coffee was marvellous though, so maybe stick to that and give the cakes a try.

7/10 (a combination of 9 for the coffee and 5 for the meal)

Edit: see comments - Tim the cafe owner says the lack of a proper salad was their mistake, I should have been offered one from the counter. I'll pay another visit sometime soon, defo for coffee and maybe for food too.
22a Norfolk Row
S1 2PA

Marmadukes Cafe Deli on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 January 2013

Northern Food on tour: New Year in London part 2

Here's part two of my round-up of our trip to London over new year. In addition to the meatballs, skewers, bao, bacon, coffee, pizza, pasta, French toast and fry-ups we managed to squeeze in a couple of meals in swankier establishments.

Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden

Clos Maggiore is a rare beast, especially in this part of town. A restaurant that's obviously chasing the tourist pound, but that hasn't lost sight of what makes a good restaurant in the first place: good food.

If you're lucky enough, as we were completely by chance, to get a table in the conservatory, then it lives up to the 'most romantic restaurant in London' hype. The prettiness of the room is backed up by service that's formal without being intrusive.

The food is French, but not very French if you're ordering from the set menus which could just as well be British, in that they wouldn't look out of place in any pub with aspirations to quality food. Beef cheeks, sticky toffee pud and so on.

Which is exactly what I ate for main and dessert, after a starter of house pickled herring with potato and dill salad. The herring was a fine plump specimen, bigger than any rollmop I've ever seen, pickled very assertively, the acidity balanced by a very creamy potato salad.

Across the table Jerusalem artichoke soup with a poached egg and truffle oil didn't have quite the same balance, being rich and creamy with extra rich and creamy. I only had the one mouthful, any more would have been too much for me and A couldn't manage half of it.

The aforementioned beef cheeks followed by sticky toffee pudding were both exemplary, if unexciting. The cheeks were excellent, collapsing into gelatinous shreds of loveliness at the touch of a fork.

Ice creams, served on a slightly unnerving bright green meringue, were well made as were the petit fours served with coffee. The blueberry financier was the pick of the bunch, my least favourite the pineapple macaron. There was nothing wrong with it texture wise, it just didn't taste of pineapple or anything much.

At £23.50 for three courses with half a bottle of wine (red, French, drinkable, can't remember the details) this really was exceptional value for the standard of food and service in this location. As I mentioned earlier the food on the set menus isn't dissimilar to what you'd get in a good food pub, with one notable difference: it would cost you more in the pub.

A fifty-odd quid bill was of course ratcheted up to closer to £90 by the time we'd added a couple of glasses of fizz, sides and coffees, but what the hell we were on holiday. Worth it and recommended.


33 King Street
Covent Garden

Clos Maggiore on Urbanspoon

The Delaunay, Aldwych

The Delaunay, sister restaurant to the more famous Wolseley with which it shares virtually the same menu, is a splendid place at which to take afternoon tea. I would imagine it's also a splendid place to go for a burger, or for breakfast, or for a platter of oysters, or for apple strudel and ice cream, or for any one of the myriad options available. Being such a jack of all trades can be problematic, but these places are on a scale grand enough to pull it off.

Afternoon tea for us, and it was very nearly the best I've ever had, the crucial matter of the scones letting the side down. They were fresh, and very light, but sort of disintegrated into a very claggy mush in the mouth, sticking in your teeth like Wotsits (just the texture, they weren't cheesy). The strawberry jam was also lacking in flavour.

Everything else was wonderful. The sandwiches, all five varieties, demonstrated good attention to detail, and were worth the effort in their own right rather than being pre-cake filler as is often the case. Lovely soft bread, delicate fillings and high quality butter. We had an extra round of the cucumber just because we could.

The cakes were also all spot on, with some unusual variants like a rosewater and lemon battenberg and a clementine tart. If I had to pick a favourite it would have to be the chocolate hazelnut eclair, an absolutely delightful confection of feather-light choux pastry and  creamy, nutty (like Nutella only better) goodness.

At £22.50 per person the full afternoon tea isn't cheap, but is far better value than the equivalent at any of the top hotels. The quality here is just as high and the atmosphere a lot livelier and more fun than the sometimes ossified environment of a posh hotel dining room (I think they would call it refined, at times such places feel more like 'funeral parlour' to me). Exceedingly good, except for those scones.

Oh yeah, and we drank Earl Grey, which was nice, and they had cool tea strainers with the little cup to catch the drips on a hinge. Nifty.


55 Aldwych

The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Northern Food on tour: New Year in London part 1

Mega-post alert. We spent three nights in London over the new year festivities, you might not be surprised to discover that eating was a very important part of the trip. By very important I mean that's mostly what we did, alongside the drinking of course.

I'll never get round to writing up each meal individually, so here's a warts and all round-up, good and bad, in mostly chronological order, of the whole lot.

To make things a little more manageable I've split the post into two, this first one covers the casual and the unplanned, the second post will be of the two slightly more upmarket places we ate at.

Ikea, Milton Keynes

You'll probably be aware that Scandinavian food is the hot ticket right now. The Nordic dining revolution has made the short voyage across the sea to our shores, and is making waves in London and the South-east. It's an intriguing mix, connecting food to culture with an almost palpable sense of place, ground-breaking in its sourcing and preparation of foraged ingredients, terroir on the plate in the most literal way.

What better way, we thought, than to introduce ourselves to this cuisine with a trip to a restaurant run by an organisation that's done more than any other to bring Scandinavian food to the people of Britain. So we went to Ikea in Milton Keynes for lunch. As you do.

I'm not quite sure how it came about, but it was something like this: no breakfast + bored on the M1 + traffic jam + discussion about meatballs + pouring rain making original outdoor plans unlikely = sod it let's go to Ikea for lunch.

The meatballs are an experience. Nice in a rubbery, filthy sort of way, but I'm not convinced by the weird milky gravy. And the lingonberry stuff is just crap jam. Crap jam with weird milky gravy isn't a great combination I don't think. Next time I might have my meatballs unadorned.

We had apple cake with vanilla sauce for pudding. I really enjoyed the cake, it was moist with good fat chunks of tart apple in. Scan-delicious! The sauce was rubbish again though. It had the taste and texture of Bird's custard after you've mixed the powder into the milk but before you've cooked it. Weird.

Would I go again? Yes, it's inevitable. Avoid the weird sauces. Cheap.


Bletcham Way
Milton Keynes

Baozi Inn Takeaway, Chinatown

Baozi Inn is a little Sichuan cafe in Chinatown, I've eaten there a couple of times but not for a few years. The good news is they've opened a little takeaway next door that sells nothing but skewers and buns.

The skewers (£1.00-£1.20 each) are boiled to order in a dirty great vat of spicy broth laced with salt, chilli and Sichuan pepper. The result is stonkingly good: tender morsels of meat or veg intensely flavoured from the broth. There are loads of varieties, I only got as far as lamb and enoki mushroom, both of which were great.

The buns (bao) are big fat steamed dough monsters stuffed with pork and onion, sturdy and filling for the harsh winters in Northern China (or to fill a 15 Ikea meatball sized space before a trip to theatre). Two quid each.


27 Newport Court

Princi, Soho

Princi is the sort of place I wish existed elsewhere in the UK, but just doesn't. This sort of thing only seems to work with the critical mass of London.

It's a big bustling Italian bakery-cafeteria-bar-takeaway. You shove your way to a space at the counter, shout out your order from an impressive display of baked goods, pizza, filled focaccia, salads, pasta, meat dishes and god knows what else, collect your drinks from the bar then elbow your way to any vacant space on the communal tables. Not the place for peace and quiet, but for a lively drink or two accompanied by some quality snacks (or a three course dinner if you feel like it) it's an excellent choice.

Pasta pesto and mozzarella and tomato salad were both very good. Beautiful milky cheese, tomatoes with some semblance of taste (which will do for me at the end of December) and grassy, herbal pesto. The pizza was just ok though, I'm never a fan of the thick rectangles of pizza a taglio stuff, not even in Italy.

Given the central location prices are reasonable. We paid just over a tenner for the food and a bottle of water.


135 Wardour Street

Princi on Urbanspoon

Full Stop Cafe, Brick Lane

A pleasant coffee shop with a few comfy sofas. The coffee, when it eventually arrived after nigh on twenty minutes, was satisfyingly robust. Yes I know that quality coffee isn't made in an instant, but twenty minutes is still too long in a not very busy place.

Still, at least we got to amuse ourselves eavesdropping on the conversation at the neighbouring table during the wait. This being East London hipster central it was mostly about their unbridled talent going unrecognised, this being the fault of others, his issues with anger and hers with Tatiana, ya? The joy.

£2.70 for a flat white. A bit much but probably par for the course in these parts. And still cheaper than Costa so on second thoughts that's good value.


202 Brick Lane
E1 6SA

The Breakfast Club, Spitalfields

We only ended up at the Breakfast Club as our original brunch choice was closed over Christmas and New Year. It was good enough to entice us back on New Year's Day for a hangover cure before the journey home.

It was an infuriating place though, with the makings of excellence being let down by shoddy execution in parts. The coffee was just ok, too milky and not very well made.

The bacon sandwich was also a misfire, but I shan't bang on about it having already done so here.

But the cinnamon French toast with roasted apples and syrup was bloody lovely, so much so that I voted it my breakfast of the year (and shared a plateful the day after, making it a contender for the 2013 award too!).

The half monty breakfast continued the trend. Beautifully poached eggs of unusually high quality (dark yellow yolks that actually tasted of something) balanced out by everything else on the plate being mediocre.

Breakfast plates are priced from around six quid up to a tenner, fair enough, but drinks are a little pricey. Service is brisk and the atmosphere verging on raucous, busy with loud music. Depending on your level of delicacy this could be a good or bad thing.


12-16 Artillery Lane
E1 7LS

The Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Friday, 4 January 2013

Review of the year 2012

Here we are at the start of another year. The last two have passed with frightening speed so it's time for my second annual end of year list-o-rama. Or the Northern Food Awards 2012 if you will.

I'm not going to call it that though, as it's a very important sounding title, as if there were judges and voters and such like, whereas in practice it's an entirely subjective round-up of the best things one person has eaten over the course of a year.

Still, there's a lot to like on this list. As with last year many of my winners are small independent businesses doing great things, and they deserve your support. Go forth, eating and drinking, into 2013.

I've kept the categories broadly the same as for 2011, give or take a couple of minor tweaks and additions. The only real difference is that I just don't have the time to write about them in such great detail this year.

The winners (and loser)

Best meal of the year: Wedgwood, Edinburgh

I dined in more upmarket restaurants in 2012 than the year before, some of which were almost in the fayn dayning category! Most of these were good, but none really that great apart from a meal at Wedgwood back in June.

Wonderful hospitality, excellent cooking and probably the single best thing I consumed in 2012, that raspberry and elderflower palate cleanser.

Coffee shop of the year: Tamper Coffee, Sheffield

Sheffield's best coffee shop, run by a lovely chap from New Zealand, proved to be a great introduction to the city. Carefully made, bold tasting coffee, lovely sandwiches and cakes, and delicious pies.

My rediscovery of the world of coffee continued apace throughout the year (in tandem with my new found tolerance for caffeine) so honourable mentions also go to Pink Lane Coffee in Newcastle, North Tea Power in Manchester, Mrs Atha's and of course last year's winner Laynes Espresso in Leeds.

Lunch spot of the year: Café Mozaic, Ashton-under-Lyne

A veritable orgy of kebabs and salads and tagines can be yours for under a fiver at Ashton-under-Lyne's marvellous Cafe Mozaic. Just look at it! Crucially the quality is also very high, making ploughing through the lot a delight and not a chore.

Also in the running were the Whitworth Gallery Cafe in Manchester for their fine soups and salads, Sesame in Leeds for dreamy fishfinger sarnies and Bragazzi's in Sheffield for first rate Italian deli sandwiches.

Best Fish and chips eaten in 2012: Murgatroyd's, Yeadon, Leeds

There's no wonder Harry Ramsden's went bust with Murgatroyd's round the corner. It has everything you could want in a fish and chip shop. Which means fat fillets of haddock in crisp, light batter, chips with creamy insides, crunchy outers and just a hint of grease, and a side of sloppy peas or curry sauce. All for not much money, washed down with a can of pop, sat at a picnic table in the dark, ravenous after a game of football. Splendid.

The best of the rest included seaside chippy visits to Sullivan's in Hornsea and Ernie Beckett's in Cleethorpes.

Indian meal of the year: Akbar's, Leeds

A difficult one this. The thing is, I didn't eat any truly fantastic Indian food in 2012, certainly nothing to match up to the best from last year. All the really interesting Indian restaurants in the North remain firmly stuck on my 'to do' list, so the prize goes to Akbar's. 

The food is nothing spectacular, but always satisfying, reliable and tasty. They also deserve a round of applause for coping admirably, service never missing a beat, despite having an enormous restaurant full of drunks every Friday night (yes Greek Street, I'm looking at you). Oh, and I don't care what anyone says, I still like the naan trees.

Chinese meal of the year: Silk Road, Camberwell, London

No contest. The best Chinese meal I ate in 2012 by a country mile. Silk Road how I love thee. You can read my review to get an idea of the food they serve, but only a visit will do it justice. Go to Camberwell.

Lamb skewers. Salivating.

Home style cabbage. Salivating more.

Other Asian meal of the year: Thai Aroy Dee, Leeds

The only repeat winner from last time around. What can I say? As with Silk Road, Thai Aroy Dee was best in class by a country mile and it just wouldn't have been fair to look elsewhere.

Honourable mentions also go to Saengarun Thai in Leeds, Little Hanoi in Sheffield and to I Am Pho in Manchester for their banh mi.

Breakfast of the year: The Breakfast Club, London

Another tricky category this. Up until last week the full English at Booth's was coming out on top. It was certainly accomplished, but didn't seem worthy of 'best of the year' status. I've obviously foregone a few proper breakfasts in favour of bacon sandwiches.

And then up popped the Breakfast Club, handily located just around the corner from our budget hotel, with a rather confusing offer of a shit bacon sandwich and an absolutely bloody lush plate of French toast with roasted apples, cinnamon and syrup. So good we had it twice in two days if truth be told.

The Town Hall Tavern is definitely a pub, the Wig and Pen? I'm not so sure. Either way it's a dead heat between these two. 

The THT served up very competent pub grub of a style and substance you'd expect to pay a lot more money for (including the splendiferous pig cheek scotch egg), whereas the Wig was a tad more upmarket, definitely more in restaurant territory with highly accomplished food that represented great value.

European meal of the year: Franco Manca, Stratford, London

Last year this was my Spanish only category. In recognition of the fact that I didn't eat as many Spanish meals out in 2012 (despite actually going to Spain), and did eat the odd French and Italian meal, I've expanded the category.

All of Europe may have been under consideration, but pizza still won. Pizza as good as any you're ever likely to eat, now available in a shopping centre. Please tell me they're opening at Trinity Leeds. Pretty please. Or even Meadowhell.

Also deserving of a mention: takeaway from Italian Express in Sheffield, tapas at Lunya in Liverpool, and Art's Cafe in Leeds.

Pub (or bar) of the year: North Bar, Leeds 

This was the most difficult category to pick. I didn't spend a great deal of time in the pub in 2012, and have yet to really fall in love with a Sheffield boozer since I moved here in the summer (I'm sure some potential favourites are out there, further exploration is necessary). 

Over in Leeds there were old stalwarts and new openings that failed to set my world on fire, a reminder that running a great pub or bar is no mean feat, so to do so consistently for over 15 years is an achievement in itself. Well done to North Bar, always reliably good, and somewhere I did at least visit regularly in the first few months of 2012 (as well as on and off for fourteen of its fifteen years, having first darkened the door back in '98).

Holiday meal of the year: Crab in Cornwall

From ferocious, struggling beast of the deep to my plate in an under an hour. It had to be the fresh spider crab we ate in Cornwall back in June.

The sweet, succulent flesh was a revelation, unadorned save for a few lettuce leaves and some buttered bread.

Daily feasts on the terrace in Spain also took some beating. Did I ever mention that I really like ham? Now I'm thinking of all things pig, pork scratching and lard butties in Brno weren't half bad either.

Worst meal of the year: Cote, Ealing, London 

I'm always envious of the London-dweller when it comes to food. The seemingly unending procession of exciting new eating opportunities never ceases to amaze, and it's no surprise that some of my 'best of the year' prizes always head South. 

Having said that London also boasts an even greater number of chain restaurants where the staff really do not give the slightest toss. Breakfast at Cote in Ealing was a case in point. 

Also atrocious in 2012 were Frankie and Benny's in Rochester and Trafalgar Fisheries in Sheffield.

Best thing I've cooked this year: I finally cooked the perfect steak.

..or at least as close to perfect as I'm going to get. In brief, here is how to do it: buy quality and thick, dry age in fridge, salt early, very hot pan, flip often, watch temperature, butter at the end, long rest. 

I was also pretty chuffed with the lamb and aubergine curry I cooked in September, but other than that it was a fairly poor year for my culinary skills. Must try harder in 2013.

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