I need to start by holding my hands up and admitting to being several miles behind the curve on this one, because I'm going to tell you how good PLY in the Northern Quarter is. You of course already know this - you've been posting photos of their sourdough pizzas all over social media for months, and like it so much you voted it Bar of the Year in the recent Manchester Food & Drink Awards - and last weekend I finally got round to trying it for myself. Rest assured I have been posting photos of sourdough pizza ever since.
We went last Sunday evening when it was quietish and we could appreciate the impressive nature of the space they've got here - it's an open, capacious affair but has been skillfully carved up into separate sections so that it feels cosy rather than stark. Despite it being a Sunday night, the small raised eating area was pretty full and apparently they'd been rammed all weekend - so much so that they'd run out of a few items. This is always disappointing but fortunately they had everything we wanted (although to be fair, I wanted everything), and we liked the straightforward nature of the menu - they sell satisfyingly Italian-sounding antipasti, and pizzas, and that's about it. I had the Aubergine and Burrata antipasti as a starter, and it was exactly as promised (but better) - marinated and chargrilled slices of aubergine, a whole fat creamy burrata, rocket and chilli flakes. It was a masterclass in understated simplicity, as was the Bresaola and Rocket across the table; thinly sliced bresaola piled high with rocket, radicchio, parmesan and caperberries tossed in a simple lemon dressing. This was some of the nicest food I've eaten outside of Italy - just good ingredients served with respect and integrity by people who know what they're doing.
Next up, PIZZA. These actually came while we were still tackling the giant antipasti, something that tends to annoy me in restaurants, as I'm quite a slow eater and like to linger over each course before the next one shows up. Our waitress explained that this is all part of the bid for authenticity; the antipasti are not designed as starters and thus the pizza will come whenever it is ready - fair enough, perhaps, and the pizzas were excellent. The bases are homemade sourdough and a little on the thick side for me, but then I do like my pizza insanely thin; otherwise, they are perfect, with generous toppings and just the right amount of smoky charring from 90 seconds in the wood-fired oven imported from Napoli (goodness only knows what the Italians would make of its cheery disco-ball facade). I chose the Artichoke and Pig's Cheek and loved it - nicely fatty cubes of smoked pig along with good chunks of artichoke, tomato, mozzarella and a sprinkling of chilli flakes. My date had the Salami of the Week and was impressed by the number of slices of proper, tasty salami along with tomato, mozzarella, basil and parmesan; he ate the lot, and then managed the last slice of mine too. We washed all this down with a couple of pints of Dortmunder (the only draught beer they had left) and had a quick browse of some of the artwork - the current Doodle Wall display is by Myro Doodles and is suitably Mancunian in theme; in fact, we thought it did a great job of summing up what's so good about PLY - this is real Italian food served up in a venue that's undeniably Manchester in mood and style. PLY is a clever fusion and I love it - it'll certainly do me until I can get back to Italy again.
- PLY is at 26 Lever Street, Manchester M1 1DW. We were invited in to review and did not pay for our food or drinks but I will be back as a paying customer; in fact, next time I'm meeting someone in town I'm going to be deliberately early so I can wait here, in Book Corner.