Whenever I plan a night out, the weather that accompanies my reverie is invariably perfect, permitting me to float gracefully through the imagined occasion attired in some kind of diaphanous dress and really, really excellent shoes. As usual, the Manchester weather failed to play along (you'd think I'd have learned by now, but no), reserving its absolute worst for last night's trip to Sam's Chop House in honour of my husband's birthday. Sartorial advice requested via Twitter was duly but not helpfully dispensed, with much mention of "elasticated" and "galoshes". Pah.
Still, gamely clad in a fairly random outfit of summer dress and thick black winter tights (just me, not the husband) we splashed our way to our first destination, Room, in order to take advantage of their half-price champagne offer before our dinner reservation. Unfortunately, the lure of champagne at £18 a bottle seemed to have tempted the whole of Manchester to stop off there after work rather than brave the rain, and the bar was packed with great gangs of braying men with their shirtsleeves rolled up and their mobile phones placed prominently on the tables; we beat a hasty retreat.
All Bar One was similarly crammed, and we were increasingly wet and cross. Then, an epiphany. The Moet bar at Selfridges is NEVER busy, either because people don't know about it, or because they think the drinks will be hideously expensive. The bar, if anything, was even quieter than usual, an oasis of calm with its beautiful views over Exchange Square, and sufficiently few people to allow me to take my shoes off and dry my feet off.
Good moods restored, it was time for Sam's Chop House, my husband's choice of birthday venue for the following reasons:
1. The food here is good. This is surely the only restaurant that would have the nerve to charge £5.95 for a bowl of onion soup, and for that soup to be worth every penny.
2. The food here comes in healthy, man-sized portions. Although, rather worryingly, I managed three courses effortlessly last night - must have been the rainy sprint across Manchester that worked up such an appetite.
3. The food here is resolutely non-fancy - think steaks, pies and puddings. For starters, I had the infamous corned beef hash: forget the unpleasant image of a quivering pink blob of tin-shaped terror that may remain from your childhood, and embrace corned beef done Sam's way - ten days in the making, and served with a poached egg and home-made brown sauce.
Mains were full of meaty goodness; steak and kidney pudding with mushy peas, and sirloin steak with tomatoes and mushrooms. Both served with gorgeous big fat chips, of course. The puddings were perhaps the weakest link, with the Pimms jelly a little on the small side, and rather overshadowed by the glorious strawberry and cucumber sorbet that accompanied but completely squashed the subtle flavour of the Pimms.
The total bill for three courses and a decent bottle of wine was just over £80, including service; some would argue great value for a city centre venue serving lovingly prepared food, while others may see Sam's as serving over-priced glorified pub food. Still, all the more for us if they stay away.
One final thing: if you were the lovely former student who served us, and greeted me with the comment "I bet you don't remember me", I DID remember you, I just couldn't recall your name at that pressurised moment. Every teacher's nightmare - I knew that I taught you for AS Lang & Lit, I knew what year, what class, and even which teacher I shared the class with. In the end, a sleepless night was avoided as I remembered your first name on the way out, and your surname on the the way home. Sorry Kim.
- Sam's Chop House is at Chapel Walks, Manchester M2 1HN, tel. 0161 834 3210.