I'm a big fan of a roast dinner, and can think of few other plates of food that so effortlessly encompass so many highs and so few lows. To be honest, I think the meat is almost the least exciting part - I like great piles of parpy vegetables, and enough crispy-edged roast potatoes to build a wall across half of Cumbria, and an ocean of gravy lapping lazily round the edge of the whole magnificent ensemble. And to be fair, most pubs and restaurants do a decent roast these days, no doubt having realised that this is a meal most people are capable of knocking up at home and thus there is no real excuse for getting it wrong.
Chorlton is not short of options when it comes to choosing a roast dinner, with places such as The Parlour and Electrik carving out pretty fearsome reputations on the back of their legendary Sunday lunches. Still, it's nice to find someone doing something a bit different, and The Thyme Machine, a new silver service carvery that has started popping up in the Chorlton Irish Club every Sunday, is certainly that. It's essentially Sunday dinner meets steampunk meets Parisian bistro - the blinds are down, the staff are dressed in fetchingly Victorian-esque outfits, the music is a mash-up of old and new, and the wine waiter (Marcel, apparently) sports an extravagant fake moustache that is only fractionally less convincing than his French accent.
Maybe this sounds a little contrived, but in reality it isn't - it's fun. And for all the frippery, at the heart of it all is great food and a proper wine list - the chef hard at work in the kitchen is Kim H Merritt and the man behind the ridiculous moustache is a wine merchant who really knows his stuff and is eager to share his enthusiasm (he also does magic tricks if you ask nicely). We start by sharing a couple of dishes from a board offering a short selection of starters, all priced at £4.50 - we have cubed watermelon wrapped in smoked ham (very refreshing and a good combination of textures and flavours) and the garlic mushrooms, which are pretty sexy and carry just the right amount of garlic (ie enough to be tasty but not so much as to preclude you actually speaking to anyone else for the rest of the day).
The main event though is obviously the roast dinner, which comes in at a reasonable £13. The meats change slightly every week - this week we are given brisket, pork and chicken along with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, red cabbage, greens and a baked onion stuffed with bubble and squeak (a treat that I normally only get to eat once a year, on Boxing Day). This is all served at table from underneath satisfying silver domes, and our lovely server Melissa, to her credit, doesn't so much as blink when my "say when" with the roast potatoes takes an embarrassingly long time to come. We also like that when we request more gravy we are simply brought the enormous jug from the kitchen and allowed to drown our dinners to our hearts' content. Everything is beautifully cooked, with nice crispy frilled edges on the potatoes and the most flavoursome roast chicken either of us recall eating in some time - both of us surreptitiously save the skin till last. Even the veggie option looks good - smoked butter squash and goats cheese pie - and there is also a weekly special, which this week is blackened salmon niçoise.
As well as eating all this, we also take a pretty enthusiastic run at the wine list. We have a bottle of good Sauvignon Blanc at £16 (well, guineas, but I only have English pounds on me), a couple of glasses of very easy-drinking Barbera with dinner, and then a Port and a Madeira from the basket of goodies Marcel tempts us with after our meal. He is really quite something; in fact, all the staff are lovely, and Melissa even remembers me from my eating marathons at The Mark Addy when she used to work there (this might explain her lack of surprise at the RoastPotatoGate incident). We are both a little saddened to emerge from this mad little corner of 1890s Paris at the end of the meal, and will certainly go back - I don't think this concept will be to everyone's taste, but we enjoyed doing something a little bit different. Even better, next time I plan to return in full-on Victorian garb - Chorlton, you have been warned, and if anyone can lend me a top hat and some evening gloves I'll be eternally grateful.
- The Thyme Machine is currently running every Sunday afternoon on High Lane, Chorlton - check their Facebook page for more details or call 07459 023741 for reservations. We were invited to try the carvery and paid for all our drinks but not our food.