Like everywhere else, Sam’s closed at the beginning of Covid lockdown but, unlike other places, it stayed shut. I thought it was going to be another restaurant casualty of the pandemic but, no, apparently the continued closure was due to the building, in which Sam’s occupies the basement, being refurbished. It reopened earlier this year and, fortunately, the building work has not affected Sam’s. So, you can walk in and still get a sense of what it was like in 1872 when it opened. 1872 makes it the second oldest restaurant in the city (the oldest, by four years, is its near neighbour, Tom’s). When you walk down the stairs, you’re greeted by a life sized bronze statue of the artist L S Lowry, sat enjoying a drink at the bar just as he used to in real life. The dining space is, to my mind, very atmospheric – the wood panelling, the ceilings painted in what I can best describe as “nicotine brown”, the Victorian era tiles in the toilets, etc. And the menu remains as it was. It focuses on the traditional dishes of our country and, in particular, the dishes and products of our region. For all of that, this is the restaurant to which I’d probably bring a visiting foreigner.
Seafood starters for both of us – a reminder that the UK is a small country with none of us living more than 70 miles from the coast. A generous portion of well flavoured smoked salmon, dressed simply with capers and thinly sliced shallot, with a tangy horseradish crème fraiche. And four scallops, served on their shells, each with a cube of black pudding, caramelised cauliflower puree, a little sherry vinegar and capers. Both delicious.
Corned beef hash is the restaurant’s signature dish and I’ve never not seen it on the menu. They say it takes them 10 days to fully prepare. It’s a substantial plate of food – long cooked shredded beef, potato and onion, topped with two rashers of bacon and a poached egg. And a dish of brown sauce , of course. Across the table, there’s a cheese and onion pie, using Lancashire cheese, of course. Nice crisp pastry and a “proper” pie, fully enclosing the filling . There’s roasted carrots, sweetened slightly with honey and a decent veggie gravy. My partner had swapped the advertised mashed potato for chips. And these are delicious chips. We know about chips in Greater Manchester – the first documented place selling fish and chips was in Mossley in the 1860s, so we’ve had a while to get it right. Proper chip sized chips – not fries, not “fat” chips” – crisp on the outside and fluffy inside.
Only one of us wanted dessert and, as often the case, it proved to be not as good as the savoury courses. It was, however, full of good intentions and not a spoonful was left. In a glass, there was a layer of chocolate ganache, flavoured with orange. Then a layer of orange jelly, topped with another payer of ganache and, finally, a thick layer of cream. You’d have hoped for a much richer flavoured ganache and that’s what let it down as much as there was a let down. But its saving grace was the two accompanying Jaffa Cakes. The online menu claims them as homemade but, in truth, they looked and tasted very like the commercial product. Not a problem as such – but I do say that as someone who can eat a packet in one sitting.