April 24, 2024
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The Edinburgh Castle, Manchester: ‘A great place to eat’ – restaurant review | Restaurants

The Edinburgh Castle, 17 Blossom Street, Manchester M4 5EP. Small plates £7-£9, large plates £15-£28, desserts £6-38, wines from £24

The Edinburgh Castle in Manchester’s Ancoats is a handsome lump of redbrick that has stood on its corner of Blossom Street since 1811, though not always with anyone in it. For years it was empty. Now, the upstairs dining room has parquet floors, comfortable midcentury modern tan leather chairs and a kitchen with principles. Those principles are the first thing we are told about, even before the offer of still or sparkling. The chef, our waiter says, does not use pepper, because pepper does not grow in the UK. Everything comes from as close by as possible. The lightly cheesy butter, scattered with flakes of salt, is churned in the kitchen. The hard-crusted sourdough comes from the Pollen Bakery five minutes’ walk away; the meat and veg from the farms on those hills you can see from the tops of the taller buildings roundabouts.

Journalists are taught not to bury the story, so let’s have the headline: the Edinburgh Castle is a great place to eat. There’s a deftness, solidity and wit to the cooking, utilising ingredients of quality. The service is sometimes chaotic but, like a primary school ballet class, always enthusiastic. What’s happening here fits very comfortably into Ancoats, a fast-developing district of boozy and edible promise, where the industrial past has been repurposed for the service industry present. You’ll never want for a negroni or a chilli-spiked Gordal olive in Ancoats. I find it hard to resist eating here when in Manchester, so I didn’t.

‘Grilled on the bone, then rested and sliced up so they lie in lakes of their own juices’: chops with cavolo nero and chips cooked in dripping.
‘Grilled on the bone, then rested and sliced up so they lie in lakes of their own juices’: chops with cavolo nero and chips cooked in dripping. Photograph: Shaw & Shaw/The Observer

But it’s impossible to ignore that tableside speech. In 2023 we are, of course, all engaged citizens of feverish and peaky planet Earth. We Care. But caring is never enough. We must sloganise it, too, which is where it can all get a little overcooked. In 2009, when I ate at the famed Noma in Copenhagen, I got a similar speech as the one here and it was very exciting. This was because the chef, René Redzepi, used the tight framework he had built for himself, to shape his food. He was reacting against a pronounced Francophilia that had been absorbed into high-end food: the ballad of olive oil, lemons and bulb garlic, which made no sense in Denmark where the days can be short, and the winds chilly. As a result, Redzepi helped define New Nordic cooking, which spoke very much of where the food was being served.

The Edinburgh Castle doesn’t really do that, or not with any serious conviction. There are touches of pronounced Northern-ness. The chips are cooked in dripping; they fair reek of saturated animal fats. I love the slabs of sourdough that have been dredged through the meat juices loitering in the pan in which the main-course chops were cooked. But there is also much on the short menu, which is pleasingly eclectic and very now. That’s exactly what you would expect of a chef like Shaun Moffat, who has cooked in London at the Middle Eastern-inflected Berber & Q, and at the cheerfully iconoclastic Manteca, which treats the Italian classics as a mere opening position in a ribald negotiation.

‘Mellow-flavoured’: courgettes with taramasalata.
‘Mellow-flavoured’: courgettes with taramasalata. Photograph: Shaw & Shaw/The Observer

Provenance matters. It tells a good story. But why eschew pepper, if you’re not going to make a point with its absence? Pepper, like the rest of the spice rack, is fabulous. Nearby Rusholme and Longsight are full of Middle Eastern and South Asian shops serving communities that have been part of the region for generations. Are they doing something inauthentic? No, of course not. When the chips turn up, I make some sour joke about potatoes being a new-fangled idea, what with that Walter Raleigh having imported them. Right now, there are massively phallic chilli peppers growing on my patio, which might be the most middle-class sentence I’ve ever written. If we follow the Edinburgh Castle credo, would cooking with them be authentic or inauthentic?

In truth, I don’t really care enough to debate it, and nor should they. So let’s stop all this and get into the food. We begin with an impeccably French and impeccably dense ham hock terrine, striated with deep green lines of cavolo nero. Alongside, to cut through the saltiness, are lightly pickled blackberries. It’s been a good year for blackberries and this is a good use for them. It’s dressed in a puddle of straw-coloured rapeseed oil. Slices of mellow-flavoured yellow courgettes lie across whipped and soft-textured taramasalata. We chase quicksilver dollops of the stuff around the plate with our bread. It’s a moment of the Mediterranean, here amid the falling Ancoats dusk.

‘Crisp-crusted’: seed cake.
‘Crisp-crusted’: seed cake. Photograph: Shaw & Shaw/The Observer

And then there are those chops, a piece of Tamworth pork and a Barnsley chop, both with their girdles of charred fat, grilled on the bone, then rested and sliced up so they lie in lakes of their own juices, much like me on a boozy Saturday night. Use the crisp slices of that bread which has been on a sleigh ride through the pan juices, or perhaps use one of the fat dripping chips. Or just stick with a heap of the cavolo nero, and feel like an adult who understands the need for balance and moderation. Celebrate your moderation by ordering another bottle of that lightly frizzante Vinho Verde, which in keeping with the doctrine of localism is made by a winery on the lower, chalky slopes of nearby Cheetham Hill. Or Portugal. One or the other.

The dessert list is, like Precious McKenzie, short but strong (look him up). There’s a great sweet-sour berry crumble, with a topping that feels like part of the dish rather than something chucked on at the last minute as is too often the case in restaurant kitchens. It’s accompanied by a sizeable jug of light custard. I’d call it crème anglaise, but the lurch into French might not be appreciated. We also have a block of crisp-crusted seed cake, served warm, with the lightest of milk ice-creams. This is solid and sustaining food. Would anything have improved it? I’d suggest a grind of black pepper on the steaks, but that would just be a provocation for its own sake.

If you’re looking for somewhere to drink beforehand, head to the nearby Blossom Street Social, which has many virtues including an interesting-looking Anglo-Brazilian fusion menu and a fine cocktail list. Their huge wine selection is available to buy to take home or to drink in at less than twice the retail price. That’s a serious bargain and, like the Edinburgh Castle, another reason for hanging out in Ancoats.

News bites

The Beckford Group, Which has the Beckford Bottle Shop and Beckford Canteen in Bath, as well as a group of pubs across the surrounding southwest region, has announced plans for two small hotels. Speaking to industry journal restaurantonline.co.uk, co-founder Dan Brod said the two ventures will “very much be restaurants as well”. The first will open in the middle of next year and the second towards the end of 2024 (beckford.group).

Burger King in the US is facing a class action from five disgruntled customers who claim they have been misled by instore advertising, which make the burgers on offer look 35% larger than those actually sold. The plaintiffs, who say the burgers appear to overflow the bun in a way the real ones do not, are asking for $5m each. Burger King has said that exactly the same patties are used in their adverts as in their kitchens. However, a Miami judge has given the go ahead for the case to proceed, so a jury can “tell us what reasonable people think” (burgerking.com).

Cheese maven Matthew Carver, who has three cheese-led businesses in London, including the Cheese Bar in Camden and the Cheese Barge on a narrowboat moored on the Grand Union canal at Paddington, is to open his first venture outside the capital. Rind is a partnership with renowned cheese shop the Courtyard Dairy just outside Settle in North Yorkshire, and will serve a range of wood-fired pizzas showcasing British cheeses, alongside various cheeseboards (thecourtyarddairy.co.uk).

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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