[Manchester, city centre] Northern Quarter Restaurant

Even allowing for Covid lockdown, it’s quite a while since we were last at TNQ. May last year, in fact. Much too long. Like everywhere else, the restaurant has had to adapt to the new situation but it has done it well. Tall, clear plastic screens separate some tables, so they have not lost too many to social distancing. Staff wear masks but, other than that, things seemed much as before. There was a nice relaxed atmosphere. We were about to enjoy ourselves as invariably we’ve done here over the years. An added appeal was that they are offering a 50% discount on their menu, not just on the government supported scheme, but everyday in August, on all the menu, with no cap. Good for them – we’d have come anyway, though.

Bang on for seasonality was a stuffed courgette flower – filled with mascarpone and lemon, lightly battered and deep fried. Perking up the otherwise mild flavours were dabs of tapenade and a very savoury peperonata. Thin slices of crispy lamb breast could have done with more of the advertised harissa but was otherwise fine – doing exactly what it “said on the tin” in the crispy and lamby departments. There’s very British watercress to accompany. And very Eastern Mediterranean chickpeas, pomegranate, yoghurt and feta. It all works exceptionally well.

We both went with fish for main courses. For one of us, it was off to Spain with cod, perfectly cooked to the “just flaking” stage. It comes with chorizo, chunks of tomato, green beans and paprika flavoured liquid that was more broth than sauce. For the other, it’s monkfish – a restrained portion but, again, perfectly cooked. And two big king prawns, to be shelled, which bulked up the protein a bit. There’s some grilled chicory for a hint of bitterness, creamed corn for a hint of sweetness and another seafoody broth. We shared a portion of very good chips (albeit of the fat variety – never as good as proper chip sized chips).

We passed on dessert but did have good espresso.

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It’s one of fifteen or so of our “regular places” that we might visit a couple of times or so each year. Like the others, it just doesn’t let you down by way of a nice evening. There’s a short seasonally changing menu, packed with dishes you really want to eat, a kitchen that knows how to cook them, and absolutely on the ball front of house staff.

Venison carpaccio shrieked autumn at you. Slices of very lightly seared fillet were as tender and flavoursome as you like. There’s a braised shoulder of Bambi in a crisp coating and, continuing the crunch, strips of parsnip crisp. Pickled shallot and a hazelnut dressing set it all off. The other starter was a smoked haddock and cheddar soufflé – light as a feather with a real smokiness from the fish and a “bite” from the cheese. They use Dewlay cheese from up the road in Preston – Dewlay are perhaps best known for their Lancashire cheeses but they make a decent range of other regionals.

I would have happily eaten any of the eight main courses but settled on one that, again, was spot-on for the time of year. Braised ox cheek was, literally, falling apart at the touch of a fork. And the braising liquid was packed with flavour from mushroom, pancetta and pearl onions. And there’s two well made Stilton dumplings. The advertised horseradish couldn’t really be detected which was a shame. I got a side order of mixed greens – cabbage and kale. A fillet of cod was perfectly pan fried – just hitting the “nicely flaking but still a bit translucent” stage. It came with cavolo nero, and a scattering of mussels and samphire. A caviar beurre blanc really worked well. We shared a bowl of chips (they must have taken note of my comment from last time - as these were proper chip sized chips, and better for it).

We’ll often skip desserts as not being worth the calories but not this time. Summer hung on for a while longer with a fresh strawberries and raspberries, a raspberry sorbet, mascarpone for richness and meringue for a bit of sugary crunch. If that was a light summery dish, the other dish was a rich indulgent bit of mid-autumn. It’s a slab of chocolate “terrine”, decorated with crunchy honeycomb, a caramel sauce and ice cream.

Coffee, in the form of an espresso and a cortado, was excellent

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I am salivating over here, it all sounds wonderful!

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
Credit: TXMX 2