Following a tough old time for Manchester’s hospitality, it’s been great to see the return of competitions to the scene this year.
Many customers might not realise it, but competitions are often the lifeblood of the hospitality industry – bringing together chefs or bartenders from different venues to create innovative dishes, often winning huge cash prizes or trips away to far-flung exotic locations.
Of course, everything’s been on hold for over a year and a half – and many of the staff haven’t even been able to go to work for a lot of that, let alone compete in a competition.
So for them to be back competing, at last, is a wonderful thing.
This year, a new one has emerged called CREATE – bringing together servers, chefs, and bartenders from some of the city’s best establishments to compete as one, in a change from the typical format.
The brainchild of Edgrington UK, which has a portfolio of brilliant spirit brands like The Macallan, Maker’s Mark and Roku, unlike many hospitality competitions, the inaugural CREATE competition focused just as much on teamwork as it did on the individual drinks and dishes – matching venues with a brand that they incorporated into both their food and drink entries.
The Manc was invited down to help judge alongside Class Bar Magazine editor Hamish Smith and senior whiskey specialist Michael Green- and we were treated to some incredible drinks, dishes, and concepts, as five of the city’s most popular restaurants showcased the very best they have to offer.
Taking part was NQ bar and restaurant Tariff and Dale, Spinningfields’ Australasia, The Alchemist, King street restaurant Tast, and The Botanist – each showcasing their own unique offerings in teams of three.
Each dish was introduced by a server, before being brought out for the judges to sample. Marks were awarded equally for service, food and drinks, with a number of optional bonus points then awarded once all the entries had been seen.
First up was Australasia, represented by Gavin, with a main of Kombu buttered poached lobster, Roku beurre blanc, yuzu, and caviar; followed by a dessert of salted duck egg chawamnushi, schezwan pepper ice cream, mountain pear and cherry blossom.
Beautifully executed, it set a strong example for everyone to follow, served alongside two elegant cocktails – one served in a Japanese tea set over pebbles that smoked with a little help from some dry ice.
Next came The Alchemist team, represented by Norbert, with its signature smoke and mirrors take. Despite working with blended Japanese whiskey Toki, they went for a South Korean Squid Game concept with an overarching theme of death.
First came mix-and-match dry ice cocktails in test tubes, aptly called ‘The Game’ and served with a Dalgona candy challenge and (sadly, a little gritty) mussels with herb brioche crust; followed by a Midori sour and a rather uninspiring blanquette of lamb neck served with boiled rice.
Third up was the Botanist, represented by Dan. Impressing the judging team with a theme of sustainability that ran throughout the menu, the team took an unusual approach by having their bartender set the tone for the first course with a dish created to match, whilst the second was headed up by their chef.
A cocktail of mango, Maker’s Mark, fino sherry, lime, quince and cardamom (called Trade Route) paired beautifully with the first dish: seared scallops ‘ceviche’ with charred grapefruit, sweetcorn sauce and Maker’s Mark salted caramel popcorn. However, it was the economical use of every part of the mango, from the fruit’s leather being used as a coaster to the seed being planted in the bartender’s garden that really made the entry stand out.
Followed by a pretty plate of perfectly-pink Maker’s Mark soused locally-sourced sirloin with a kimchi crust, black garlic and Maker’s Mark sauce, taramasalata, glazed savoy and ox cheek, alongside a coconut-washed Maker’s Mark cocktail, the whole thing was a huge hit and, ultimately, secured The Botanist a firm second place.
Tarrif and Dale
Fourth came casual dining spot Tarrif and Dale, represented by Luca. Working with Highland Park, the team married their chef’s Sardinian heritage with the whiskey brand’s Scottish roots: creating a beautiful stuffed pasta dish of haggis, potato and Blue Murder cheese culurgiones.
Highland ingredients ran throughout the drinks too, with the second course ending on a dessert of Forest Mille-Feuille, orange custard and Girolles mushrooms – served alongside a similarly custardy dessert cocktail. Their server may have forgotten most of her spiel, but her friendly manner of coming down to the judges level (and her tartan skirt) definitely set her apart.
And, last but not least, came high-end restaurant Tast – working with The Macallan and represented by Julia.
A melt in the mouth starter of near-raw, buttery soft seared salmon married with whiskey caviar, fennel and apple puree, apple and whiskey air, and dill harmoniously. Served alongside a twist on an old fashioned one judge likened to an apple crumble, it was a great success – so much so that I forgot to take a picture until I’d already eaten half of it.
Finishing off with a dish of chilli lobster and whiskey sauce, sea lettuce, pork chin, Chinese seaweed bread, herbs emulsion and lobster coral hollandaise, paired simply with a sparkling dry cocktail, it soon became clear that Tast was going to take home the gong that day.
Once the scores were drawn up, it was confirmed – and charmingly, when the CREATE winner was announced, the Tast team acknowledged their fellow competitors before all joining together for a photograph.
Coming at a time when collaboration in the industry has been more necessary than ever, it was brilliant to see all the teams present as they would in their venue, right down to the introduction of dishes by a server.
Whilst often in hospitality there are clear lines drawn between the bar, floor and kitchen, following a year in which everyone has needed to work more collaboratively than ever, CREATE competition came at the perfect time – showcasing a mixture of casual and fine dining restaurants at their very best.
We can’t wait for the next one.
Feature image – The Manc Group