I can put a fairly precise date on the beginning of my love affair with Chorlton: the summer of 2013, when the Metrolink expanded to East Didsbury and offered the thrilling possibility of travelling to Chorlton and back for the princely sum of £2.90. Whilst I love living in Didsbury, Chorlton offers a far wider range of bars and restaurants, many of them interesting independents. Predictably enough though, I very soon got lazy, and have tended to stay at the "tram end" of Chorlton rather than exploring properly. Last week saw me venturing slightly futher afield for once to the opening of Mish Mash, a new bar/restaurant at the far end of Beech Road, one of Chorlton's most popular areas for eating and drinking but somewhere I rarely visit; fortunately, it was worth every step.
First of all, Mish Mash has bagged a great venue here - a gloriously high-ceilinged, 60-cover space set back from the road and thereby possessing plenty of precious outside space; it used to be an Indian restaurant apparently, although not a trace of this former guise remains. They've unblocked all the windows and decorated the walls with interesting murals and artwork such as Ms Pink by local artist Sarah Lynn Mayhew - I'd seen a photo of this on Twitter and hadn't been too sure about it, but in the context of this impressive building it really works.
The evening began with tasters of a couple of cocktails (the fragrant gin and cucumber-based English Hedgerow is a definite winner) from an interesting looking drinks menu, and some excellent canapes that boded well for the main meal. The final menu was still being tweaked at the time of our visit, but we were able to choose from a selection of dishes and, being greedsters who wanted to try a bit of everything, we both went for different options. My starter of smoked salmon and Earl Grey dressing with rye bread was beautifully presented and pretty novel, with instructions to squeeze the tea bag over the fish. I would have liked a slightly more robust dressing - this one was fragrant and delicate and maybe just a touch too refined for a girl who likes to eat mayonnaise straight from the jar. Across the table the Lovely Louise's starter of poached pear and pasta salad with rocket, parmesan cheese, pepper coulis and toasted pine nuts was also as pretty as a picture - her only criticism was the discovery of a burnt pinenut. Good news too to see a restaurant using vegetarian Parmesan as standard.
If starters were promising, the mains delivered in full. I chose the Mojito chicken with wild rice, roast peppers, beans, jalapeno salsa and flat bread. This dish, which marinates the chicken in rum, lime and mint before flambée-ing it in more rum, looks set to become a signature dish, and is already well on its way to being something to which I could become addicted. The flat bread (which was strangely crispy) seemed a little redundant as this is quite a dry dish anyway, and I could have managed a little more chicken to balance out the generous quantities of the hideously moreish rice, but apart from these minor points this was a great dish, full of flavour and textures. As was the ham, egg and chips snarfed by my dainty dining companion - sugar baked ham shank (Frosty the butcher's finest) with a fried egg, triple cooked chips and a mustard reduction. We didn't have a single word of complaint about this dish other than the little watering can containing the mustard reduction - I reckon the food here is too classy for this kind of slightly contrived serving vessel, and whilst I understand they are part of a theme at somewhere like The Botanist, it seemed a bit out of keeping here.
Desserts were also excellent. Louise had the chocolate and cherry pot with vanilla cream whilst I went old school with the baked banana split with salted caramel, pecan nuts and poached apricots, and whilst neither was ground breaking both were examples of straightforward combinations, done really well, and served in generous quantities (too generous possibly). I particularly enjoyed the combination of the thick, salty caramel sauce with the sweet, crunchy pecans, and also the fact that, at a push, I reckon I can count this dessert as two portions of my five a day. More watering cans though, AND a flower pot. We were served a lovely Pinot Gris from the Sussex-based Bolney Estate throughout the meal - great to see a restaurant actively promoting English wine, and the wine list as a whole looks to be thoughtfully chosen and carefully pitched at a range of price points.
I really, really want this place to do well. Owner James is just lovely, and after 25 years in the food business (including stints at Simply Heathcote's, Jamie's Italian and Restaurant Bar and Grill) has realised his dream of opening his own restaurant before he turns 40. Serving up a three course meal to a busy restaurant on launch night is a brave move but revealed surprisingly few early teething problems - the staff were already genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the menu and service was polished and friendly, whilst the cooking was confident and accomplished. I'm looking forward to going back another night and eating from the full menu - and of course, I can be secure in the knowledge that the walk back to the tram stop will doubtless burn off every single calorie I consume...
- Mish Mash is at 133 Beech Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21 9EQ. We did not pay for the food and drink on launch night but I will definitely be back as a paying customer.