[Manchester, city centre] Northern Quarter Restaurant

The city seems to be awash with “small plates” places which means the restaurant is a beacon for those of us wanting a “proper” three course dinner. TNQ, as it likes to call itself, never lets you down. There’s a short, seasonally changing, menu. And, yes, it may be a cliché, but this is food you want to eat. We went on a midweek night when, to use a Manchester cliché, it was raining cats and dogs. You’re glad to be back inside and settled, knowing everything is going to be OK for the next hour or so. Service is spot on, with things happening just as you expect them to happen.

Now, that short menu brought one starter that was absolutely bang-on for seasonality. The very first of the British asparagus, served with a houmous made from white beans and wild garlic. And there’s a drizzle of hazelnut vinaigrette. The other starter, more autumnal in feel, featured simply prepared beetroot and a beetroot puree. It’s got an earthy sweetness to which slices of lightly pickled onion contrast well. For a further texture contrast, there’s a very crispy goats cheese croquette but, as often the case, it’s a very mild cheese which doesn’t add too much in flavour.

Steaks come from grassfed animals raised in the northwest and aged for 28 days, by their butchers, Albert Matthews. Matthews have an excellent stall at Bury Market, often selling less common meat like Galloway beef and Gloucester Old Spot pork. This was a fillet steak, with good flavour for fillet. It comes with roasted bone marrow and a choice of sauce – in this case, a well made béarnaise. Accompaniments are extras for steaks, so with decent chips and a flavoursome heritage tomato salad, you’re looking at a dish priced north of £40.

If restaurants round the northwest have anything to say about the provenance of the chicken they serve, they will probably mention that it comes from the Lancashire village of Goosnargh. Which means it comes from the Johnson brothers farm there. The chickens aren’t free range but are raised in barns but with a good amount of space to run around. Always tasty chicken. It’s simply roasted here and served with a scattering of chicken livers, some wilted greens, a couple of spring onion hash browns, truffle foam and a nice sauce. Greed got the better of me, so I ordered a dish of cauliflower cheese – because when does cauli cheese not improve something.

Greed was still there when it came to dessert. There was a special. One of the chefs is Bulgarian and had prepared a cake from their homeland. Garash gateau, named after its creator who first made it in 1885. It’s a layered chocolate cake – thin layers of hazelnut meringue, with chocolate ganache in between the layers, with the assembled cake then covered in chocolate. There’s a dollop of cream on the plate, topped with a scattering of pistachios. It’s a solid affair which left me wondering if I really had overdone dinner. But it was delicious. And, surprisingly, not overly sweet. And not a mouthful was left.

As I said at the beginning, TNQ doesn’t let you down.