Left to my own devices, I am prone to sticking with the same old, same old. Thus, while I have never been averse to popping into Spinningfield's Oast House for a drink, I have never got round to eating there - I've got so far as looking at the menu, and then dismissed it on the grounds that there could never really be anything to get excited about with a deli board or a kebab.
Thankfully, I have been forced to eat my words, along with said deli board. We called in on Wednesday night after the preview showing of the Kevin Cummins New Order exhibition at Manchester Photographic, and were immediately struck by how busy it was on an otherwise unremarkable midweek evening - perhaps it was the live singer knocking out pretty decent covers in the bar that had drawn the crowd, but there was a lively buzz nevertheless that suggests that they're doing a lot of things right here.
The menu is a straightforward affair, offering a pick and mix deli board option rather than traditional starters, followed by a range of rotisserie and barbecue items. Any four items from the pretty extensive selection can be had for £9.75 - including some excellently chewy Turkish flatbread - with additional choices at £2.75 each. This might seem pricy, but I hold my hands up and admit that we ordered six items plus a separate houmous board at £4.95 and found that we'd over-ordered quite dramatically - as a starter, four items would definitely be enough for two people, even if one of them was me.
The highlight of the deli board was the Coronation Chicken, an item which never fails to excite the 1970s child in me but which - as with so many guilty pleasures that you know are inherently wrong - often fails to deliver. This one was just lovely - large chunks of shredded roast chicken in a classy mayo with the right levels of spicing and sweetness. The homemade scotch egg served with piccalilli was also a big hit - a dense, sausagey cannon-ball of goodness that would probably provide a meal in itself. Our other choices - Parma ham, Greek salad, home-dried tomatoes and chorizo - were all similarly well-executed, and the houmous, served with crudites and flatbread, was a joyous affair, with a good hit of garlic and an interesting texture thanks to the inclusion of a few whole chickpeas.
So far, so impressive. Mains were less successful, for two reasons. Firstly, they both arrived when we were only halfway through the deli board, and whilst they do warn you both verbally and on the menu that food comes as and when it is ready to ensure maximum freshness, this was still a little disconcerting. I didn't want my main - a 9 oz ribeye steak with fries and garlic butter - to go cold, so I had to shuffle my plates, tackle my steak, and then essentially return to the eating of scotch eggs etc as a kind of dessert (a first, even for me). Secondly, whilst my steak had a good flavour, parts of it were slightly hard work - I always approach a ribeye prepared to chew, but sections of this generous beast were rather tougher than others, a matter not helped by the garlic butter, which had clearly imparted taste but then had disappeared, leaving me sauceless.
Back to the positives though. The fries were hot, crunchy and plentiful, and overall this dish offered satisfyingly good value at just £14.75 - it's just personal preference that I would rather pay an extra few quid and have a more tender steak. Across the table, the lamb kofta hanging kebab barely touched the sides, and although it was noted it came with fewer chips than my steak, it did come with a jaunty peri peri sauce that I purloined to overcome my own lack of dipping item - the lamb koftas were (apparently) so moist they didn't need it anyway. The staff were also pretty fantastic considering how busy it was - service was prompt and friendly, with a mistake on the wine corrected instantly and without fuss.
Overall, then, a pretty positive experience. We were invited to try the menu and were not asked to pay for our food or drink, but I will certainly drop in for a deli board or a hanging kebab next time I'm in Spinningfields - this isn't the best or most inventive food in Manchester, but The Oast House does seem a pretty good option for a relaxed lunch or dinner if you're out for a few drinks. Just be slightly careful with how much you drink - I've yet to visit the Ladies here and NOT had to request loo roll from a neighbouring cubicle...