The collaboration itself came about with a story. The people behind Harvey Nichols were blown away when the visited Levanter in Ramsbottom- a rustic, Basque-style Spanish restaurant which serves up arguably some of the best food in the North of England. There simply had to be some sort of collaboration with the Harvey Nichols Brasserie, and that was that.
Close to a year later, the Txoko Supper Club was born, and I was lucky enough to be invited down there for what was one of the best meals I have had in Manchester thus far. We were treated to a six-course Basque banquet with paired wines, food-theatre and lots of interaction with the Baratxuri chefs that live and breathe their art in the most beautiful way.
As we stood around chatting and getting acquainted with all the delicious smells, we enjoyed various nibbles and a few glasses of a delightful Spanish beer. This seriously whetted our appetites with little spoons of octopus and fresh crab aloft small rounds of toast just to name a few.
Baratuxui, which is the little sister the Levanter restaurant is a pintxo bar- so this was really playing to their strengths. Here, I learnt that the word ‘Pintox’ means spike which is a reference to the sharp stick that holds these nibbles together.
We sampled the most classic Basque pintxo as we sat down on the long tables which made me feel like I was at some kind of family affair- which I think was precisely the point. This was the Gilda Pintxo which comes from San-Sebastian in Spain. The flavours are simple – a beautiful green olive, with guindillas (pickled green chilli) and a fresh anchovy. Green, salty and spicy- these were the perfect way to start our meal.
The next course was Bacalao Pil Pil- salt cod with chilli and garlic and a buttery sauce– which of course, came with a tale. The story goes, that when fishermen went out to sea to catch more fish, they would take salt cod along with them to eat. When cooking it, they realised that the gentle rocking of the boat made the fish exude its protein with, teamed with a little garlic and some olive oil, creates a thick, hollandaise-like sauce to pour over the fish.
Yeah, and it was delicious- and there is not much else I can say about it other than that. I love the slightly course texture of salt cod anyway, and paired with the buttery sauce, plenty of garlic and a hefty hint of chilli- It was safe to say I was blown away. It looks like I have a lot to thank those fishermen for.
Next up was a dish which combined Chiprones (baby squid), Morcilla (blood sausage) and Mango gel. Now I’m just going to be honest here, I loved the combo of the squid and the Morcilla, but I feel like the mango gel was just a tiny bit sweet for me. If you have a sweet tooth, however, you would have been in your element.
And now on to the theatrical side of the evening where we enjoyed a steaming bowl of Suckling Pig. Now I know we are not so inclined to enjoy food with a face that often, but this was spectacular, and even if you are a little squeamish, all was forgotten when you tasted the succulent meat.
I’m not going to go in the grizzly details about the poor piglet itself for the benefit of ears who do not wish to hear about it. What I will tell you, however, is that it was an incredible culinary experience. The pork was cooked in cider with onions and nectarines for sweetness which teamed with the pork juices, created a delectable sauce to pour on top.
In Spain, roasted suckling pig is a celebratory dish which is designed to be shared. At this dinner, we were encouraged to dig in and share with the strangers sat around us which got everyone chatting and formed a certain closeness. After this experience, we left as friends rather than strangers- which is, in my opinion, exactly what food should do.
Finally, there was the Tuxleton. This is a massive chunk of beef on the bone which comes from an old dairy cow- something which is common to eat in the Basque country but not so much over here in the UK. The age of this cow lets the fat grow naturally and flavour the meat over a hopefully, long happy life.
The meat is aged for 45 days and this twinned with the natural fat made this beef some of the best I have ever tasted. The chefs cooked it blue, and there was no choice about it- which I really appreciated. The quality of this beef was so high any more cooking would have destroyed it.
Apparently, this is the signature dish over at Levanter, and I can see why. I have never had beef quite like it and like the suckling pig before; it was designed to be shared which almost resulted in a wrestle for the last piece. I can add nothing more other than perhaps a round of applause.
We finished things off with a glass of sherry, some cheese and a general sense of speechlessness. Part of me was sad that this one off event was over, but I guess I’m going to have to get myself off to Ramsbottom for my next Basque country fix before the month is out.
Harvey Nichols Manchester, 21 New Cathedral Street, Manchester, M1 1AD
0161 828 8898