There are many, many things I love about Manchester. I consider it to be absolutely the perfect size, for example - large enough to have lots of interesting things to do but small enough to walk from one part of town to another (well, in theory, if it's not raining) and to run into someone you know en route. Social media has, if anything, made Manchester feel even smaller - in both good ways and bad. A new restaurant can create a real buzz on Twitter before it's even opened - it really did feel last week like everyone was talking about Beef and Pudding, the new "urban pub and kitchen" in Manchester city centre from New Moon Pub Company founders David Mooney and Paul Newman. This is of course a good thing, but do you all really need ANOTHER photograph of what is already the restaurant's signature dish, that beef and venison suet pudding?
Well no, you probably don't. Last week saw a "soft launch" period in which people on the mailing list were invited to dine for half price; everyone went, and everyone had the suet pudding. But as several people have asked me for my highly esteemed and considered opinion on the place*
*expressed incredulity that I wasn't one of the first with my face in the trough
here are a few thoughts on the two visits I have already made.
We went on Tuesday, and found it hard to believe this wasn't a well-established restaurant - the staff are young, confident and friendly, and Nic Duncan seems to have already made the kitchen her own, turning out food that is both innovative and comforting in the generosity of its portions and in its focus on simple, tasty flavours that most people will be very interested in eating. The presence of Gordal olives on the menu and the quality of the bread basket tells you all you need to know really - the king of olives served in a pretty cool tin and a mountain of fresh bread served with both butter and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
On to the starters, and the only misfire of the night. The "Blanc" sounded fantastic - fresh crab from the North Wales coast with pink grapefruit and coronation mayo - but the balance was all wrong, with the delicate crab totally overwhelmed by the astringent grapefruit and no taste of the mayo at all. This is the point of a soft launch though, and so I would be tempted to try this again next time - in the right proportions, this would be a stunning dish. The Dublin Bay Prawn Thermidor with spinach and garlic toast is already a stunning dish - large, succulent prawns in a rich cheese sauce that I would eat every day were it not for minor inconveniences like the need to fit in my clothes.
The mains were great. I don't think much more needs to be said about The Pudding: beef & Barbon Fell venison suet pudding with horseradish paste, served with stockpot gravy, mash and black peas. This was quite simply the best pudding I've ever had - the suet crust was crispy on the outside yet soft and fluffy on the inside, packed with tender meat and sitting on a bed of superlative mash, with the black peas adding both taste and texture. I would have liked to have tasted more horseradish, but then I have been known to eat this particular condiment straight from the jar so I perhaps have rather specialist tastes. Across the table the Flattened English Rump Steak with shoestring fries barely touched the sides, with the citrus rub imparting just the right flavour and the chips pronounced an excellent example of their species.
For dessert, it had to be the Pudding Plank, offering generous tasters of the Sticky Toffee Pudding, Chocolate Tart, Cheese Glazed Eccles Cake, Bakewell Pie and Banoffee Cheesecake along with custard, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Looking at this photo, I appear to have scored a bonus Chocolate Brownie - this was one of my highlights, along with the peerless Sticky Toffee Pudding. We washed all of this down with an excellent Zinfandel from what is an interesting and well-priced wine list - although not all of them had been delivered on the night we went.
In short, we loved it so much, we went again at the weekend for Sunday lunch. This looks set to be one of the best-value deals in Manchester, with two courses for £12.95 or three for £14.95 from a set menu. Three of us had the pâté, served in dinky little buckets that yielded a hidden apricoty treasure at the bottom, whilst the other two had the prawns and smoked salmon with Bloody Mary dressing. The pâté was by far the most successful of the two dishes - the smoked salmon was lovely, but the dressing was on the hot side and the prawns, although plentiful, were small and tasteless. Bearing in mind the good-value ethos of Beef and Pudding, we both felt we'd rather have had fewer prawns of better quality.
No issues at all with the roasts though. Four of us had the Roast Rump of Mature English Beef, cooked through or pink and served with homemade Yorkshire pudding, duck fat roasties, vegetables and gravy - this was delicious, and left two boys unable to finish their potatoes, so generous were the portions. The Roast Pork was even better, offering perfect crackling that caused something of an unseemly scuffle at an otherwise decorous table. We were too full for pudding - although before you feel too sorry for us, bear in mind that two of us had already been to the Cake and Bake Show as a warm-up to this gluttonous feast.
So is Beef and Pudding perfect? No, not yet - but it's been properly open for less than a week and I am already booked in for my third visit. Although, this does admittedly say as much about me as it does about them...
- Beef and Pudding is at 37 Booth Street, off Fountain Street, Manchester M2 4AA: go there, immediately.