[Manchester, city centre] Northern Quarter Restaurant
The Northern Quarter used to be a right manky area of the city centre. My Dad used to work in the garment trade and he would mention the tiny sweat shops that were the mainstay of businesses in the area. There’s still a goodly number of companies but these are now wholesaling imported clothes rather than selling stuff made round the corner. Nowadays, it’s an area for folk to go clubbing, drinking or eating.
The Restaurant is very much a child of its times. The obligatory stripped floors. The obligatory photos of the surrounding streets in Victorian times. The obligatory clientele of loft dwellers who can’t be bothered to cook. The obligatory Modern British bistro menu, leaning heavily on local produce, as though Smithfield Market was still open directly across the road. I liked it. I liked it a lot.
There were small, sweet mussels in a creamy, winey, bacony, broth. There was lightly smoked Fleetwood haddock, mixed with cheese and turned into a rarebit topping for good toasted bread. It was as good a starter as I can recall at this level of restaurant.
For mains, we ignored the likes of Reg Johnson’s Goosnargh duck and Barry Pugh’s suckling pig. Even though the latter came with an intriguing Bury black pudding jus. I’ve had the pig somewhere else and it is none too shabby when treated well.
Instead, I opted for roasted organic salmon and it was almost perfect. OK, the flesh was just ever so slightly over but, wonder of wonders, the chef actually understands the need for crisp skin. And this was some of the crispest fish skin I’ve had. Which means I forgive her/him for the overcooking. It came with an excellent fondant potato, some wilted greens and a pleasant enough, if rather insipid, beurre blanc. The latter was, supposedly, flavoured with crab but I couldn’t detect anything.
My partner had gone down the veggie route with sausages. The waiter told us later that the chef had found a recipe for a veggie substitute for black pudding. Now, I know what they mean. There was that savoury, spicy taste that you get from a good black pud. It was due to come with mashed spuds, something my partner detests, but it was no problem to swap that out for a serving of mashed carrot and swede. There were crispy onions and a grain mustard gravy. It really was very good.
For dessert, we both opted for the special – a pear and rosemary tarte tatin. Oddly, because it was a special, it came as a sharing plate. No, I’ve no idea why that should be the case and would have preferred it if it hadn’t. And, truth be told, it let down the rest of the meal. It was over-caramelised. Yes, I mean it was burnt and that did absolutely nothing for the flavour. Still, we managed to polish it all off.
They weren’t busy and there was only one waiter on duty. He was friendly and attentive – an asset to the restaurant. Pricing is about on the money for the city centre.
We share the garment business - my father got his msc from Manchester university in the early 50's and went back to India to run textile mills in Bombay. With a little prodding I have a wonderful story to share about him and his landlad from manchester ... Very readers digesty but still ...
Gotta hear about Papa Howler in Manchester - can you spin a food slant to it so the mods won't get uppity?
Story of the city's garment trade is the story of immigrant food. Late 19th century and onwards, it was heavily Jewish. And that community is still involved bigtime. they mainly lived just to the north of the city centre and that's where you'll still find the occasional kosher place.
Since the 1970s, many of the businesses have been owned by south asians - Indians and, mainly, Pakistanis. The latter group, in particular, were responsible for the Northern Quarters "curry cafes". Originally places for the asian workers to get a cheap lunch. Several still remain, although Anglos are now the predominant customer numbers. A "rice and three [curries]" is now almost a city lunchtime institution and costs about £4.50. I went past one of the cafes this evening and was disappointed to see they've stopped doing their game curries - venison, quail, etc.
When I moved here, I was surprised to find out that Manchester had the largest, UK Jewish population years ago outside of London. I would imagine there were lots of good bagels and other delicacies to be found, but like London, they seem a bit different than what's found in the U.S.
I saw gefilte fish balls in M&S the other day, but they hardly resembled the ones I know and love.
And another top Manchester fact is that it was only in 1921 that London overtook it to become the UK's wealth capital. The North West really was the pumping heart of industry and its accompanying shipping, as evidenced by all the crumbling mansions dotted round Birkenhead, surrounded by vacant docks and morning drunks. So sad.