CONFIDENTIAL is going to have to put itself on a diet. On behalf of you, our readers, we’ve ploughed through piles of protein, sacks of sugar and countless carbohydrates. We’ve almost overdosed on kimchi, quinoa and smashed avocadoes. Our eating pants with the elasticated waist are beginning to cut off our circulation and our livers have sent us a second written warning. All, of course, to make sure we can tell you about the best and worst restaurant dishes in Greater Manchester.
Some meals were well worth the calories, the risk of diabetes and the need to put an office lifting winch on expenses. Some were, less so.
Now, with only a couple of weeks to go before we nail the lid down on 2016 and do it all again in 2017, it's time to look back at the best dishes we've eaten this year. Over the past twelve months we’ve reviewed 85 restaurants, cafés, diners, pop-ups and pubs on this site. At an average of three courses per venue (more in most cases) that's a whopping 255 dishes, less than one fifth of which have made it to our list of top scoring dishes (9/10 out of 10)
El Gato Negro | Gillardeau oysters, yuzu juice and pickled cucumber (£3.50 each) 10/10
“It was with trepidation that both Gordo and Schofield eyed up the mucked-about oysters. They got swallowed and we got blown away. These, dear reader, are the dish of the year so far. Kill for them.” Gordo - El Gato Negro reviewed, 52 King St, Manchester M2 4LY.
(Gordo also scored El Gato’s Almonds and Scotch Egg at 9.5/10)
Hispi | Custard Tart (£5) 10/10
“Dear reader, there is a God and she can bake. Boy, can she bake. When she got her custard tart right, she sent the Angel Gabriel to a sleeping pastry chef called Keiran Bellerby and shared the recipe with him.” Gordo - Hispi reviewed, 1C School Lane, Didsbury M20 6RD.
(Gordo also scored 9/10 for Hispi’s charred sprouting broccoli and featherblade)
Umezushi | Hamachi Collar (£8) 10/10
“This bony section just behind the head and gills is the fattest juiciest part of the fish, so perfect for grilling or roasting on the bone, which had happened here. It’s a damned sight less fiddly than negotiating skate of its cartilaginous bones, for instance and it’s fun to venture beyond fish wrapped around rice.” Neil Sowerby - Umezushi reviewed, 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester, M3 1PJ.
(Neil also scored the sushi, sashimi and pickle platter 9/10)
Casa Italia | Octopus Carpaccio (£9.50) 10/10
“Our shared starter of carpaccio of octopus ticked every tentacle. Gossamer-thin discs of cephalopod in herby, lemon oi l were utterly gorgeous.” Neil Sowerby - Casa Italia reviewed, 688-690 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, M20 2DN.
The Refuge | Lebanese Lamb Chops (£9.50) 9.5/10
“There’s another contender for star dish – lamb chops, fatoush, yogurt, harissa flatbread. It's hard to beat a lamb chop cooked pink.” Charles Campion - Refuge by Volta reviewed at The Principal, Oxford Street, M60 7HA.
Gaucho | Seafood sampler (£16.95) and cured meats (£4.50 each) both 9/10
“The crab causita with its egg and coriander mingled with chilli was a revelation of rich flavour, both gentle and punchy at the same time. The marinaded scallop with fennel, chilli, avocado carried a hint of soy and was again wonderful. Not far behind was the tuna ceviche with guacamole and again soy. I could revisit Gaucho just for this lot right now, eat nothing else and just swig tap water.”
“The bresaola was the pick, stunningly soft and easy to munch, packed with flavour, but the pastrami and the salami weren't far behind.” Jonathan Schofield - Gaucho reviewed, 2a St Mary's Street, City Centre, Manchester M3 2LB.
Salvis Osteria | Burrata (£8) 9/10
“Salvi’s boss at the new Norden restaurant, Maurizio Cecco, is famous for the mozzarella he imports from his native Naples to sell at his trio of Salvi’s restaurant/delis in central Manchester. You can carry a globe of it away in a plastic bag full of whey/water, like bringing a goldfish home from the fair.” Neil Sowerby - Salvis Osteria reviewed, 539 Edenfield Rd, Rochdale, OL11 5XH.
Allotment | Manchester Tart (£7) and Cauliflower Wings (£16) both 9/10
“Everything is made from plants. Nutter’s doing something really different here and I’d urge food fans, veggie or not, to give it a whirl.” Ruth Allan - The Allotment Vegan Restaurant reviewed, 6 Vernon Street, Stockport, SK1 1TY.
FEAST | Roasted Fig (£6.50) 9/10
“Much more exotic was an aged balsamic roasted fig on a tangle of pomegranate, pumpkin and Mejdool dates, each time the stand-out starter.” Neil Sowerby - Feast reviewed, 47 King St West, M3 2PW
Grafene | Sea Trout (£21) 9/10 and Dripping Roast Potatoes (£3) 9.5/10
“A light fresh dish with a beautifully cooked, silky piece of fish that was almost sashimi-like in the middle, cooked tight on the outside to ensure maximum flavour. Great stuff.” Gordo - Grafene reviewed, 55 King St, Manchester M2 4LQ.
White Hart | Marinated Tuna and Roasted Partridge (as part of a £55 tasting menu) 9/10
“The punch of umami arrives next – tuna marinated in a soya emulsion with black radish and pickled mushrooms.”
“a yielding leg and breast of partridge, not overpowered by the accompanying beer-braised red cabbage with black fruits and turnip.” Neil Sowerby - White Hart reviewed, 51 Stockport Road, Lydgate, Saddleworth, OL4 4JJ.
Indian Tiffin Room | Paani Puri (£3.95) and Goat Keema Pav (£5.50) both 9/10
“Two trumpet-blowing starters. The first was cunningly crafted from puff pastry hollowed out by some alchemy and containing cute potato balls. There's a tub of minty water amongst these dancing, dainty titbits which you pour inside the pastry and then chuck in your mouth. The result is a hugely refreshing explosion of flavour.” Jonathan Schofield - Indian Tiffin Room reviewed, 2 Isabella Banks Street, First Street, M15 4RL
(Jonathan also scored Lamb Nalli Nihari 9/10)
Mustard | Buffalo Chicken Wings (£7) 9/10
“These wings had my heart. The buttermilk-tender chicken, the crunch of the inappropriately crumbed exterior, the acidic tang of the pre-applied blue cheese sauce, the lack of celery - it was all so so good. Best wings I’ve had outside of New York State.” Lucy Tomlinson - Mustard reviewed, 23 Northenden Road, Sale, M33 2DH
Where The Light Gets In | Bulls Testicles (£65 as part of a 7-course tasting menu) 9/10
“A wondrous deep-fried thick disc of bull’s testicle, texture of sweetbread, smeared with unripe quince puree. Windfall-wizened British quince, intenser than its scented continental cousin. That was almost a haiku, I’m getting into this.” Neil Sowerby - Where The Light Gets In reviewed, 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 7JY
(Neil also gave 9/10 to scorched onion soup, sourdough, chestnuts and chocolate tart)
Cottonopolis | Tiger Prawn Tempura (£8) 9/10
“These were stonkingly great. Light, dead crispy and well seasoned with ‘spicy avocado sauce and yuzu salt’ - a slightly chunky guacamole with class. FUCKING FANTASTIC. Gordo wants the recipe please chef.” Gordo - Cottonopolis reviewed, 16 Newton Street, M1 2AE
My Thai | Pad Thai (£8.50) and Tom Yum Soup (£7.50) both 9/10
“This is thrilling food that’s great to share.” Jonathan Schofield - My Thai reviewed, John Dalton St, M2 6WH
Porta | Ox Cheek (£6.95) and Broccoli (£4.95) both 9/10
“It’s the rich yet piquant romesco – a blend of peppers, nuts, chilli and paprika that is like the red-headed sex bomb cousin of pesto – that makes the plainness of the broccoli sing. If you were going to swerve this dish on the way to something more obvious, I urge you think again.” Lucy Tomlinson - Porta reviewed, 50 Greenwood Street, Altrincham WA14 1RZ
Namaste | Paneer Chilli (£7.75) 9/10
“Namaste’s chilli paneer is indeed the stuff that Mercury-prize nominated bands are made of.” Ruth Allan - Namaste reviewed, 64-166 Burton Road, M20 1LH
Rudy’s | Calabrese pizza (£7.80) 9/10
“I couldn’t have been happier with my Calabrese, which blotted its tomato, mozzarella and basil covering with that squelchy, spicy nduja (which sounds eerily similar to Calabria’s gangster cadre, the Ndràngheta).” Neil Sowerby - Rudy’s reviewed, 9 Cotton Street, Ancoats, M4 5BF
The Lost and Found | Short Rib (£16.95) 9/10
“Our meatier main course of Josper smoked and braised beef short rib with triple cooked chips and pickled red cabbage slaw was a triumph. It was enormous, tender and superb value, with a subtle but unmistakeable smokiness. I’d struggle to order anything else.” Deanna Thomas - The Lost and Found, Old Town Hall, Princess Street, Knutsford WA16 6BY.
The White Rabbit | Rabbit Risotto (£6.50), Scallop (£7.95), Pork Fillet (£17.50), Peach Delice, Dark Chocolate (both £6.95) all scored 9/10
“The vivid concentration and technical nous of the food is a little hard to reconcile with the setting – a cosy cave saved from claustrophobia by a large people-watching window along the front. Exposed stone walls, stripped wood floor, a quirky Alice in Wonderland theme bubbling under, it’s a work in progress on a budget.” Neil Sowerby - The White Rabbit reviewed, 1 White Hart Fold, Todmorden OL14 7BD
Tapeo | Milk-Fed Lamb (£23.50) and Aubergine crisps (£4.50) both 9/10
“This leg and shoulder of milk-fed lamb is all about the delicate flesh, the forgiving way it falls from the bone and the massive flavour it delivers in the mouth. It isn't a big dish but it's a worth a long journey to try.” Jonathan Schofield - Tapeo and Wine reviewed 209 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3NW.
Seoul Kimchi | Homemade plum (£2.80) and green tea ice cream (£3) 9/10
“The deep creamy tannins of the latter counter-balanced the floral, almost sherberty essence of the fruity one. I would happily join the queue outside every day just for that plum ice cream” Deanna Thomas - Seoul Kimchi reviewed 275 Upper Brook Street, M13 0HR
Red Chilli | Cold beef (£8) and soft shell crab (£10) 9/10
“Two dishes were so outstanding I nearly jumped in a cab to pick up the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who lives down the road to drag her back and force her to chuck an ode their way. They were lush, rich, rightfully and purposefully lubricious, but also livened with fire and spice.” Jonathan Schofield - Red Chilli reviewed, 403-419 Oxford Rd, Manchester, M13 9WL
Yuzu | Daikon/wakame salad (£3.30) 9/10
“A subtle daikon and sweet wakame seaweed salad, dressed in yuzu, was a gorgeous accompaniment to a large mixed plate of sashimi for £19.99 featuring scallop, tuna, organic salmon and sweet prawn as fresh as… you know where I’m coming from.” Neil Sowerby - Yuzu reviewed, 39 Faulkner St, Manchester M1 4EE
River Restaurant, Lowry Hotel | Lobster (£20) 9/10
“The half lobster had been removed from the Josper before it toughened up and was beautiful. Great flavour.” Gordo - River Room reviewed, 50 Dearmans Pl, Salford M3 5LH
San Juan | Tortilla (£3.75) 9/10
“The tortilla (£3.75) was warm and loose in the centre and the best I’ve had in Manchester.” Jonathan Schofield - San Juan reviewed, 56 Beech Road, Chorlton, M21 9EG
All The Shapes | Bakewell Tart 9/10
“All the Shapes has got the casual, day-to-night restaurant style of places like Common and Volta down pat, plus some great suppliers and details. I’m guessing that with a few tweaks behind the scenes, it’s likely to grow into a café-bar worth travelling to.” Ruth Allan - All The Shapes reviewed, 8 Warwick Street, Prestwich, Manchester M25 3HN
Salvis Mozzarella Bar | Antipasti platter (£17 for two) 9/10
“The raw materials Cecco sources from his native Campagna and across Italy are of the highest quality. The bufala mozzarella is a definition of creaminess, the mortadella is glorious, the peppers and leaves are gloriously moist.” Jonathan Schofield - Salvis Mozzarella Bar reviewed, Corn Exchange, City Centre M4 3TR
Fuzion | Prawn toast (£4.80) and Peking spare ribs (£4.95) both 9/10
“Now Peking ribs. Four big, fat buggers, crispy, chewy and tangy. They dripped down Gordo's chin, just as they had when he was a boy. Gordo had to check the price again. Yup, less than a fiver. Moving on to the prawn toast; crispy, dry, crunchy, prawny, sesamey. The best in the North West. I want these on my deathbed. Fuck Colchester oysters.” Gordo - Fuzion reviewed, 264 Wilmslow Rd, Manchester M14 6JR
Zayka | Goan Style King Scallops (£7.95) 9/10
“One of the best starters I’ve had for a while. Two fat, moist pan fried scallops sat on a pile of gently spiced onion and tomato confit, cooked slowly and patiently until rendered down to a naturally sweet paste.” Deanna Thomas - Zayka reviewed, 29 Market Street, Whaley Bridge, High Peak, SK23 7AA
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