It’s been a while since we last experienced Andrew Nutter’s food. Just over four years to be exact. I havnt seen him on telly, even north west telly, in ages so I don’t know if it's still appropriate to call him a celeb chef. So I won’t.
It’s an odd place. As you enter, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into the wine department of a large store – there’s racks of bottles set out, all priced up. You then notice the bar – entirely reminiscent of the sort of bar you come across in pubs on big council estates. And then there’s the bar sitting area - off to one side and for all the world looking like the bar sitting area of a bland city centre hotel – the sort of hotel that might once have gone by the name of Trust House Forte. It really is all a bit surreal.
So, we’re sat in the bar having ordered an aperitif. The menus come. There’s a good carte – maybe a dozen offerings at each course. There’s a “daily specials” menu – another four or five at each course. My partner had read that they also have a full vegetarian menu. She asked to see a copy. Another four or five offerings. The serving staff now have marked down as Veggie Vera so, when the canapés arrive, hers are different from mine. She gets pesto bruschetta and Padron peppers; I get a cube of tortilla and something meaty which I’ve forgotten. Later, when we’re seated in the dining room, she gets different bread to me. Hah! No Bury black pudding bread for her!
So, she decides she might as well be Veggie Vera then. Lentil and spring onion fritters were spiced with curry powder or, at least, a mix of south asian spices. A well rounded flavour with just the right amount of chilli kick. It was softened by a mango and coriander raita. If you were scoring a dish out of ten, this easily hit a seven.
Also scoring well, was a small fillet of sea bass. It came off the daily specials menu Nicely cooked, except for the lack of a crispy skin. It sat on a quite chunky sauce of mussels and clams, together with still very crisp chunks of asparagus. Now, you might think that asparagus in Ocotber had to be imported. But, no, this was second crop English. And, no, I’d never heard of second crop either. A bit of Googling suggests this is another success from the Chinn family in the Wye Valley who have been pioneering earlier and earlier crops for a few years now and must now have turned their attention to the end of the season. Tasted good.
After such a good start, we were looking forward to the main courses but both were a bit disappointing. I don’t often order a steak and it's even rarer that I’ll order a fillet. But here it was advertised as coming topped with smoked bacon and Lancashire rarebit. That read well to me. Well, I couldn’t get smoked bacon anywhere and the rarebit was such a thin topping that it made little contribution. Steak itself was fine, in the way that fillet will always be fine. More fun was the mini steak suet pudding that sat next to it - some long cooked meat encased in a proper steamed pudding. Some shredded greens and a decent peppercorn sauce completed the plate.
Meanwhile, Veggie Vera was also less than thrilled. Her favourite blue cheese is Blacksticks and here it was encased in pastry, along with red onion in a Wellington. There were garlicky parmentier potatoes and a tomato and basil sauce. Sauce was very good. Everything else was just underwhelming – under flavoured and under seasoned.
Desserts were back on track with high scores (had we been scoring). There was a Bramley and quince tart that was excellent. The fruit hitting the perfect balance between sweet and sharp. The pastry crisp. The sauce a rich sweet caramel. Really very good.
Vera had gone with one of those desserts that are an array of mini-desserts. In this case, described as a “taste of Manchester”. So, an excellent Manchester Pudding – the pre-cursor of the more familiar Manchester Tart. Pastry base, topped with jam, sponge and flaked almonds. A tiny, but perfect, Eccles cake. And a shot glass filled with Vimto trifle – and you don’t get more Manchester than Vimto. And, finally, a little dish of honeycomb ice cream – no Manchester connection here, except it was topped with a chocolate bee – the bee being the city’s symbol.
Service had been excellent – efficient and non-intrusive – the minor delays we experienced were almost certainly down to the kitchen who were dealing with two large parties running just ahead of us. They should, of course, schedule their bookings so they are not overwhelmed by 15 punters needing to be served at the same time.
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