[Manchester, city centre] Sam's Chop House

Sam’s is my favourite of the three chop house locations in the city centre. It’s the atmosphere – the basement location, the slightly uncomfy chairs, the paint colour on the walls that’s reminiscent of nicotine staining, the dark brown tiles in the bogs – you could almost envisage yourself back in 1872 when it opened. Almost.

I like the food. It’s traditional British given a modern spin. Much of the menu is actually north western. So, bread is chargeable. But. And this is a big but. It comes with beef dripping to dunk into. None of this poncy olive oil that seems to crop up everywhere in America. And it’s lovely dripping. It makes up for the fact that bread was sliced some time before and has dried out a bit.

Our regional food heritage was to the fore with both starters. One, a classic potted shrimps, nicely seasoned with the traditional mace. But the toast that came with it has been baked with chilli, or an awful lot of black pepper, in it. It was just a bit odd and, in fact, not an improvement, killing off a lot of the delicate buttery flavour of the shrimps. The other took a slice of black pudding, coated it in breadcrumbs before frying. There’s a little apple puree and a cider/butter and a few segments of fried apple. What’s not to like?

The regional feel was there with fish and chips. We claim to have invented the combination here – with the first documented fish & chip shop being just up the road in Mossley in 1863. It was cod – the usual fish in this part of the world, unlike many other northern areas where the preference is for haddock. Properly cooked cod with a crisp batter. And mushy peas that were “exemplary” according to my partner. But the chips were the ubiquitous “fat chips”. They really shouldn’t be. Chip sized chips are what you need and expect in a place like this.

It’s not often I eat steak but this one was worth a try. Thin cut hanger, aged for 28 days, it needed only a few seconds to cook through but still be juicy. It came with those fat chips which, when it comes to steak, are better than no chips at all. There’s a fried duck egg, perfect for dunking the chips into the rich yolk. And a mustard/butter sauce that worked well with the meat.

We should have called it quits at that point. Desserts at this level of restaurant are rarely worth the calories. But greed got the better of us. There was a decent enough rice pudding, topped with quince jam. But the jam had unpleasant chewy bits which spoilt it a bit. And a steamed plum pudding was just disappointing – overly dense sponge topped with what seemed like a smear of jam and a thin, rather tasteless, custard.

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

― Jonathan Gold