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Manchester: Revolution Not Devolution at The Indy Man Beer Con

Victoria Baths
Hathersage Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester
Cuisine: Pan-Asian
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Martin Guttridge-Hewitt: With Devo Manc kicking off political and economic change in what may or may not be the UK’s second city, we reflect on a mid-October celebration of hop-based independence in Manchester.
 
British drinking culture during the 1990s painted a rather bleak picture. Huge breweries ruled the roost, ale was out, poor quality chemical-filled lager was very much in.
 
Skip forward to today and the scene couldn’t look more different.
 
The explosion of craft, family and independent producers in Britain is no longer news to anyone, of course. From traditionalists such as Yorkshire’s Copper Dragon (the county’s fastest growing), to the often controversial Aberdeenshire hop peddlers, BrewDog, from the hipster hangouts of London to the most inviting of old world inns, tastes have changed to such an extent that, as a licensee, whatever your clientele, if you’re not serving small batch pints and handmade bottles you’re missing a trick.
 
With this apparent beer revolution permeating the entire country a new approach to festivals celebrating Britain’s favourite varieties was inevitable. As such, when Food Tripper was invited to join the legions of locals and visitors heading to Manchester’s Indy Man Beer Con held in the city’s prestigious Victoria Baths, to indulge in a night of quaffing and scoffing, we were always going to get involved with serious gusto.
 
The building itself is without question one of Cottonopolis’ prized assets. First opened in 1906 and left to rack and ruin from 1993, the £3million poured in through the BBC’s Restoration show post-millennium has transform a derelict building south of the centre into a real treasure. Once inside this old swimming palace visitors find a rabbit-warren of ornately tiled corridors, three pool areas dripping with grandeur, fringed by antique changing rooms, and an events programme that veers from site-specific performances of Romeo & Juliet to craft fares.
 
We may not be here for any of those, but upon arrival it’s immediately apparent just how suited to IndyMan this place is. Steeped in atmosphere and stunning interior details, the much-loved deli, Ludo, based on the ultra-sought after Beech Road in the trendy ‘burb of Chorlton, has set out its cheeses on the terrace level, welcoming us with a fine collection of blues, hard matures and more before we’ve even descended to the main floor for a sample of the real attractions; well-over 100 beers and ciders (with these options changing over the course of three days).
 
Of particular note are the fittingly titled 9.4% superior stout, Thoughtless, courtesy of Red Willow; Cannonball from Magic Rock- a staggeringly drinkable and refreshing IPA belying its 7.6% status; Wild Deer’s Sourdough, which, as the name suggests, forsakes the standard ingredients for sourdough yeast and packs a piquant to prove it (think serious citrus flavours from start to finish); and Beavertown’s somewhat legendary 8 Ball, another IPA albeit this time rye-based and every bit as unique as the last. The list could go on, too, if that wouldn’t betray our level of consumption.
 
Thankfully, though, for the sake of memory at least, we aren’t just here for the booze alone. Jackie Kearney, BBC One MasterChef 2011 top four finalist and the epicure behind The Hungry Gecko - a street food business and dining club that has become something of a Manchester institution and regular fixture at bars and pubs in the area- has procured a secluded room just away from the main Indy Man melting pot for a lucky bunch of diners to sample her wares. The theme being to offer empty stomachs a delectable four course taster menu set to matching beers.
 
Opening with crispy five spice popcorn tofu alongside sweet and sour plum sauce, from here we call off at a Tibetan momo soup of dumplings, beef and nasturtium flower; spicy sashlik king prawns on a bed of vegetable biryani polished off with goats curd, mint mousse and a shot of vindaloo sauce; before finishing on a lemongrass and lime kaffir tart- perhaps the icing on the cake (excuse the pun), with each tangy East Asian mouthful aided no end by mint foam and goji berry sauce.
 
When accompanied by (in order of appearance) Wild Beer brewery’s Shnoodlepip and its touch of passion fruit and hibiscus; Sussex-based Burning Sky’s Belgian-esque Saison; the Buxton India Pale Ale, Axe Edge, created especially for IndyMan; and Gose, another sour choice this time from South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing, the amount of attention that has gone into not just finding flavours that match, but achieving an intoxicating contrast between glass and bowl, or indeed plate, is impossible to deny.  
 
“The thing with pop-ups is you land into an unfamiliar kitchen, an unfamiliar space and the vagaries of other people’s equipment. But I’m really happy with how it all went,” explained Kearney when we spoke. “I learnt a lot from the whole process and experience. I’ve never done a beer matched meal before, it was so enjoyable. Obviously the guys from Indy Man bringing a load of beer round to my house whilst I cooked was great... ...but it was such a revelation to me how much the beers could cut through or raise the game of a dish. I would love to do something like it again now.
 
“In terms of the menu, my dining food tends to be street food-inspired, and we knew we wanted to do fusion. I came up with a couple of dishes for each course, and we were keen to make sure some courses weren’t spicy, or had an adjustability to the level of spice. One of the things we discussed initially was how subjective food is and how everyone’s palette is different. That’s how we came up with the idea of doing the momos with sepen [Tibetan hot sauce] on the side, so people could choose how hot it was. And with the biryani I wanted to do something quite stylised, something that looked good as well as tasted good.”
 
In the opinion of at least three very happy diners it’s hard to fault the concept or delivery- elevating what could have been a piss up in a few rooms full of breweries to a far more elegant experience, albeit one that still maintained the overall ambience of the Indy Man idea. A far cry from your average lamb curry washed down with a few Cobras, needless to say then, we’re already rather eager to return next year, and in the meantime are all ears for Kearney’s next projects in and around Britain’s first devolved provincial town, with eyes now set on a return to sit down dining experiences rather than the street food focus that has defined her recent exploits- a mouthwatering prospect to say the least.
 
About the Chef
 
Jackie Kearney was a top 4 finalist in BBC One’s MasterChef 2011. She has been developing her experience and reputation through pop-up dining events, a vegetarian fine dining club and pursing her Asian street food venture in her iconic trailer, Barbarella. Her food passion lies with Asian street food and vegetarian dining, inspired by her extensive travels across Asia with her husband and twin children. You can read more about Jackie’s adventures with her family on her blog.
 
Jackie’s ambition is to raise the bar in vegetarian and street food dining. She aims to create food that is exciting, delicious and thought provoking
 
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9 November 2014
By: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
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