I've long been an admirer of the Lowry, which I consider to be an excellent example of a modern, purpose-built theatre - two differently sized performance areas with very comfy seats, in a super-stylish building with great views and convenient parking. They also have Lowry paintings there, and an interesting programme of high-quality productions, and a ruinously tempting giftshop. What the Lowry hasn't had - until now - is a decent restaurant, the sort of place you make time to visit before a show because you want to eat there rather than being forced from necessity to forage for food before embarking on a three hour opera; indeed, I must confess to more often grabbing a burger at the nearby Lime rather than eat in the Lowry's own restaurant.
Thankfully, that's all changed now with the opening of Pier Eight. This is the Lowry's new bar/restaurant area, and they've worked wonders with the old space, borrowing some of the outdoor area and creating a new venue with its own separate entrance that should lure in locals, shoppers and workers as well as theatregoers. The menu is a total and utter charmer - not exactly groundbreaking, perhaps, but full of things I would like to eat and which show a real understanding of how to combine ingredients to good effect as well as a few touches of finesse here and there. We'd spent the morning Christmas shopping at the Lowry Outlet Mall, and the boyfriend's reward was a mighty starter of black pudding, crispy egg, tomato chutney, creme fraiche and celery salad - an absolute steal at £6. I appreciate it's not difficult to fry sliced black pudding, but the quantities were generous and the perfectly runny egg encased in crisp crumb coating elevated this dish to something really quite classy. That said, there was a great deal of chutney, and while its sweetness went well with the richly savoury black pudding, some of it did prove superfluous. Meanwhile, I had a most elegant dish of scallops with cauliflower purée, bacon, lentils and smoked red wine sauce, which was as dainty as the black pudding was hearty - two plump scallops beautifully cooked and served with a deeply earthy little pile of lentils. I would never have thought of serving scallops with a red wine sauce but it really worked.
The mains were similarly well-balanced in terms of flavours and textures. One of the features of the menu is that the meat dishes tend to include two different cuts or techniques of the animal in question; thus my fillet steak came with a hefty cube of falling-apart-tender braised blade as well as bubble & squeak, artichoke purée, buttered spinach (cunningly disguised as a sprout) and braising sauce. I would have liked my steak a little rarer; when I ordered, I was asked if I was happy for it to be served pink, suggesting that some of their previous clientele prefer a more well-done steak, and I would indeed have liked it even more pink. Still, next time I would simply emphasise this when ordering. To recover from his meaty starter, my lunch date chose Scottish salmon with parsley crust, rosti potato, white beans, celeriac, cockles and shallot cream sauce, another interesting dish that benefitted from its thoughtful partnering of ingredients, particularly the shatteringly crisp fish skin with its fresh green crust again the rich creamy blandness of the beans.
We were very full by this point, but the cheeseboard was quite simply irresistible: Lancashire Bomber, Garstang Blue, Lincolnshire poacher, poached pear, celery and biscuits is my idea of a quality selection - three excellent British (and mostly local) cheeses served at the correct temperature in generous wedges with crackers and more of that lovely tomato chutney we met during the starter course. I've never been beaten by a cheeseboard before, but the generous quantities defeated our enthusiastic joint effort; you will believe me when I say I've rued the cheese I couldn't eat every day since.
Overall, we were impressed. The staff are young and friendly and enthusiastic about the menu, and the views from our table across to the War Museum were most impressive (and it was an unseasonably sunny day, hence the slightly phallic shadow cast by the crispy egg). We thought prices were very reasonable, and although we had the car and therefore weren't really drinking, the wine list offers plenty by the glass and the glass of Chardonnay I had was very good value for something that slipped down so easily. We're already planning our next visit - and I reckon if I'm good for an entire visit round the Imperial War Museum I reckon I'll have earned crispy egg AND cheese...
- Pier Eight Restaurant is at the Lowry Theatre, Pier 8, Salford Quays M50 3AZ. They offer a bar menu and fixed price menus as well as the a la carte that we tried.