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A Day Out At The Northern Restaurant and Bar Exhibition, Manchester #NRBMCR #NRB2017

Published On Friday 24 Mar 2017 by Sticky Beak
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The Boy Wonder and I decided to have a bit of a road trip up to the Northern Restaurant and Bar Exhibition held at the Manchester Central Conference Centre on 21st and 22nd March 2017. We booked a taxi to take us to the train station after we’d seen the number of trade stands showcasing Gin alone, never mind other alcoholic beverages!

Everything had gone brilliantly with the journey up to Manchester, so we arrived well before Noon and got our passes issued and headed straight into the exhibition hall.

It will come as no surprise that I spied a food stand, Martins Craft Bakery, first and wandered over to see what they had to offer. The lovely gentleman fronting up this stand was a Mr Toby Graemer whose passion for the bakery produce came shining through as he broke a gluten free Gingerbread man into pieces for us to sample.

It was a bit cake-ier in texture than a traditionally made gingerbread biscuit, but no less scrummy with its zingy, spicy ginger taste and it was just the job to refresh the palate after a long train journey. He very kindly gave me a loaf each of the Cheese and Chilli, and Linseed and Quinoa breads to try, both of which I can report are delicious.

Martins Craft Bakery is based in Newton Heath, Manchester, and one of their products you may be familiar with is their Fruit toast, stocked by both Debenhams and Wyvern Garden Centres. Personally, I had never had this before so Toby also sent me away with a packet of this to sample for my breakfast this morning. The bread itself is lovely and springy in texture and is chock-full of plump currants, raisins and sultanas; when toasted and warm all it needs is a bit of fresh butter on and, Bam!, it transforms into something kings could breakfast on.

Smithy Mushrooms had a fantastically eye-catching display of various Mushroom varieties growing in their packed bales of dampened, chopped wheat straw. I love Mushrooms, especially seeing as they are one of nature’s so-called super foods and really enjoyed finding out a bit about the growing process and conditions that the fungi like and dislike.

There were absolutely loads of different Gin Makers at the exhibition, some we knew and some we didn’t. Our friends from Burleighs Gin / 45 Gin School were there and Master distiller Jamie was telling us about the roaring success of their Pink Gin and the fact that he had installed five stills for other companies last year and the same number is planned for this year. Their gin making master classes are growing in popularity; so much so that they have taken on two new team members.

Another Gin producer that runs Gin making experiences are Harrogate based Slingsby Artisan Gin, located close to Bettys Tea Rooms. I can say that their London Dry Gin is jolly nice after having sampled a snifter of it; well, I have to try these things, purely in the name of research you understand, and George did encourage me! J

10 Degrees C produce a different type of Gin, Nordes Galician Gin, which uses an Albarino Grape based spirit rather than base white spirit, setting it apart from other products on the market.

There were also another couple of Pink Gins to try at the exhibition; one made with Strawberries and the other with Raspberries. Berrypickers Gin is made by macerating southern Spanish Strawberries with the base spirit which not only give it a very pretty colour but it also impart their wonderful sweet flavour to the beverage too. I really liked this as the fruit note came through strongly and there was no harsh finish on the palate either. In summer, this would be great in a goblet filled with crushed ice to sip in the sun :)

The second pink gin comes courtesy of Pinkster gin and marries fresh raspberries with the alcohol. Again, this has a wonderful flavour to it, especially when paired with a good quality tonic, more fresh raspberries and spanked fresh Mint. Yes, you have to spank the Mint, not pinch it or roll it; spanking is the only way to go apparently. The Man Bird went all of a –flutter as the very beautiful Sophie spanked the mint just for him (naughty boy that he is!). I love the fact that they also use the boozy raspberries to make gin jam as well as simply bottling them as boozy berries; waste not, want not as they say.

We did also sample a couple of non Gin alcoholic beverages; Pure Shots had Liquorice, and Mango and Passion fruit vodka products on offer, and the Sweet Potato Spirit Company had a range of (sweet potato based) fruity products on offer.

At the Pure Shots stand Lewis was leading me astray with both vodkas; both of which are very different to one another. The Liquorice version has a thicker viscosity to it and a fab depth of flavour to it which really lends itself to being sipped; the Mango and Passion fruit product is normal fluidity and is very lively on the tongue. Lewis said that the fruit one goes brilliantly with ice cream as a twist on desserts.

They say hindsight is a marvellous thing, and had I been in the zone I could’ve taken a shot of it over to the chaps at New Forest Ice Creams and cadged a bit of their vanilla ice cream to pour it over. Talk about a missed opportunity. Doh! I did sample the award winning Oriental Ginger and Honeycomb Swirl ice creams though under sales manager Pauls knowledgeable eye.

Over at the Sweet Potato Spirit Company stand we sampled the Orangecello liqueur; this has fab warmth to it, without any harshness and it needs a gentle shake to disperse the fruit sediment at the bottles bottom before pouring. We also tried the Spiced Rum that they produce and crikey it was good; there was no harshness at all on the palate which used to put me off drinking this spirit. I would love to know what the mixologists at Turtle Bay, Derby could do with this little treasure!

By this point I needed to have some food to temper all the alcohol in my belly and as luck would have it The Bread Factory team had their stand close by. These artisan bakers had produced a really beautiful display that I defy anyone to have walked past without having a crafty nibble. The Boy Wonder and I had some of the American Pumpernickel bread with its cocoa powder, molasses and treacle trinity. It had a wonderful rich taste to it that just caressed the tongue and filled the mouth with its deep array of notes. No wonder this has won two gold stars at the Great Taste Awards :)

David also tempted us to try the Sour Cherry and Currant Sourdough bread and we really enjoyed this lovely light morsel whose fruits gave a great balance of sweet and sour in the mouth. I spied the mixed Olive Sourdough bread and couldn’t resist trying some as I’m a real sucker for Olives. This also won a Gold star at the Great Taste Awards, and the combination of green Martini- and Black Niciose- olives certainly was a winner in my opinion.

We chanced upon The Gourmet Group, based in Spennymoor, and their corner stand just as they had drained a batch of Crab and Seafood balls fresh out the fryer. Thank you lady luck for the great timing on this occasion! Brilliantly crispy outers revealed a nicely seasoned inner that was bursting with sweet crab meat and these little morsels went down a treat, let me tell you. They also make crème liqueurs and I can personally recommend the Hazelnut and Almond, Creme Brulee, and Whisky crèmes; not drunk all together, obviously!

With some sustenance in my belly I was ready to hit the drinks circuit again, so we set off to discover more treasures exhibiting at the Central Conference Centre in Manchester.

We chanced upon the Luscombe drinks team first and they had brought their wonderful selection of juices, crushes, traditional and bubbly beverages all the way from beautiful Devon. I asked if I could try the gorgeously deep-hued Blueberry Crush and I have to say that its Blueberry and Cranberry, agave sweetened, combination was an absolute corker. The berry brightness came bursting through in the mouth, but because it hasn’t been artificially sweetened it quenches the thirst superbly; so smitten was I that the lady kindly gave me a bottle to bring home with me.

A couple of aisles over we were asked to try a Gin and Tonic from the Temperance Spirit Company. We remarked to each other that a company producing alcohol surely wouldn’t call itself Temperance, and it turns out that our gut reaction was well founded. These G&Ts didn’t taste any different from usual, but they hid a brilliant secret; they were exactly the same as a traditional Gin and Tonic, right down to the botanicals, except they had no ethanol (alcohol) in them.

Absolute genius if you ask me! Not only can mums-to-be or designated drivers partake of them, but they really won’t feel as if they’re “missing out” which is often the case as your mates are drinking whilst you nurse a coke or orange juice.

Our teetotal journey continued with the very dapper, charming Mike Moore from Fentimans. He imparted a wealth of knowledge to us as he took us on an aqueous adventure that took in everything from traditional tonic waters and the 19.05 herbal tonic water right through to Rose Lemonade, Ginger Ale and the new kid on the block, Pink Grapefruit tonic water.

Now I’ve had Fentimans Tonic waters many a time with measure (or two) of Gin and thoroughly enjoyed them, but the Pink Grapefruit variety made from Ruby Red Grapefruits is something to behold. It has a vibrant, clean note that could easily be enjoyed on its own with plenty of ice as well as being paired with Gin or Vodka for a refreshing long drink. The Ginger Ale showcased the true natural flavour of the Ginger root so you got that warming heat as you drank it, without any of the sourness that occurs when it’s artificially sweetened.

English Wines were represented by Biddenden Vineyards from Kent, so we popped over to say hello and partake of a glass of their White Fizz. Whilst we were chatting I spied “Red Love”, an apple juice pressed from red apples; not only is it sweeter than juice from green apples but it has the most gorgeous natural colour.

Being the glutton that I am, with my thirst slaked my focus returned to my favourite thing in the world; food. Bobbys Bangers were cooking up a sizzling storm so we sampled their traditional banger that was rammed with meaty flavour and had a fab texture before moving on to one of their superior –range sausages; Bombay. The Bombay sausage had the same texture and quality of Pork in it but had a great curry spice tinge to it; this didn’t overwhelm the sausage taste but gave it a lovely earthy note.

Two lovely chaps, Mike and Peter, from The Bury Black Pudding Company let us try their Black-, White-, and Vegetarian-pudding slices. They also do Chilli and Gluten free varieties, that I would’ve loved to try. I am rather partial to Black Pudding and just wish I could’ve stayed longer and really had a full portion of it!

We’ve tried some of Simon Barrett’s (aka The Chilli Jam Man) products before, having met him at other food fairs and I love the fact that he’s always experimenting and developing new products. He was showcasing “Squealers” which are Pork Scratchings coated with chilli powder, and these are deliciously hot and spicy. The bag is large enough to share, but I opened them last night and have hidden them so that they are mine; all mine! I am a fully paid up member of the Lime Tickle appreciation society and couldn’t resist putting a dollop onto one of the Scratchings :)

Simon let us take some marinades that he has developed for a chain of restaurants, so this weekend we are marinating some racks of Pork Ribs and Boneless Chicken Thighs from our local butcher, Percy Dawes in Alfreton. I am giddy with excitement at my version of a “world exclusive”; a quality range of marinades with quality meats is going to be something to revel in and I shall post the results on my own blog, The Sticky Beak Blog.

No exhibition is complete without a bit of theatre, and this was more than ably provided by the team on the Chillistick stand. This is essentially small cubes of dry ice that is caged and then dropped into drinks to produce billowing clouds of fog a la Harry Potter or Macbeths Hag Witches as they simmer something in their cauldron.

We experienced a bit of this theatre for ourselves at Kedleston Country Houses “taste of Kedleston” event when Chef Joe Wood heralded the dessert courses arrival with dry ice in bowls that issued forth huge waves of mist. You could use Chillisticks to great effect at Halloween Parties in particular, but equally they would wow guests at any occasion.

All too soon, it was time for us to collect our coats from the cloakroom and make our way back to the train station. It was a great day though, and the exhibitors had all put such great amounts of effort in to display their products to such great effect. Can’t wait for the event next year :)