David Adamson flocks to the new pub that has sprung out of Cottonopolis

I would say that the likes of Cottonopolis did the Northern Quarter a big favour. Back in the heady days of November 2015, a month after a visit by Xi Jinping that put the city in the shop window, the future of Manchester didn't necessarily gleam with the promise of topping Coolest Cities in Europe lists.

It seemed we were pretty happy with what we had, and what we had was a bloom of bars and restaurants with a novel new idea of serving 'Asian-inspired' dishes, from sushi and ramen to these things called bao buns. It was all very exciting. 

In this very publication we wrote that "...it's an intriguing and refreshing concept, and Northern Quarter has, in recent years, suffered somewhat from repetitive serving syndrome - want a craft beer with that burger?"

We were clearly full up from dirty burgers and wanted something new to sink our teeth into. Well it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. Cottonopolis has closed, the bao bun cold war has ended, and now it seems everyone's back down the pub.

2024 03 18 Lamb Of Tartary Review Exterior Sign
The Lamb of Tartary Image: Confidentials

When it was announced The Lamb of Tartary would be springing up in Cottonopolis' place and there was no mention of opulence, affluence or decadence I breathed a sigh of relief. If the most conceited thing about the place was going to be the name, then I was happy. All that was left was to taste the food.

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Inside The Lamb of Tartary Image: Confidentials

The menu is refreshingly small and leaving little room for fussiness, pickiness or could I just-ers, it's laid out on one side of A4; snacks, small plates, mains, the grill and a selection of sides. Take your pick. I'd taken my brother Will and so we could take a decent chunk out of the thing.

First things first; Carlingford Rock oysters with Yorkshire rhubarb mignonette (six for £16) and two pints of Guinness (£6.50 each). All things well, this is the ideal start to a meal in a pub that's got ambition. If any of the well-known chains started serving oysters I would think twice and twice again about ordering them, the clickbait headline coming screaming into view - "I tried the Greene King oysters and saw through time, then slept in the bathroom for a week." Thankfully, this isn't The Lamb of Tartary team's first rodeo, having already charmed Ancoats (and Jay Rayner, on a flying visit) with the Edinburgh Castle. Shucks away.

These were exactly what you'd hope for; fresh and sufficiently plump oysters, tasting simply of the sea while crucially not carrying half it to the table, and bathed in a biting, vinegary mignonette that with the rhubarb and shallot lent that crucial textural crunch. Coupled with a pint of Guinness I guess you'd call this an Irish delicacy, and the flavours were just that, surprisingly delicate. We all know Guinness is creamy, but who knew it could navigate such sea-salty tones. I'd pop in at 3pm for a few of these if I was feeling fancy.

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Carlingford Rock oysters with Yorkshire rhubarb mignonette Image: Confidentials

Such has the landscape of menus changed that small plates can often be close to the main event or even overshadow it; a series of tasteful bridesmaids dresses flanking a bloody great big meringue. Here they do a great job of their supporting roles but one comes close to stealing the show. The Belted Galloway steak tartare with potato crisps (£12).

A neat little artwork that manages to balance the high end with a sense of humour, this is a marquee dish that I can see enticing plenty away from cooing through the prism of an Instagram page and actually sitting down to give it a go. With the sunflower-like look of the thing it's almost a pity to break it up, but break it up you must; it's a delight to look at, but even more to eat. The golden egg, the fragrance of the chives, and the citrus tang shooting through a beautiful cut of beef that needs little assistance, this is really worth a go - and that's before I mention the crisps. Why not counter that most la-di-da of dishes with something as unpretentious as a plate of crisps? This is still a pub, after all. But because it's not your usual pub, these crisps are cooked in beef fat - twice? Triple? Dangled into a lake of infernal tallow? It probably saves your calorie counter not to ask.

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Belted Galloway steak tartare with potato crisps Image: Confidentials

The burrata, baby leeks and green sauce (£9) if anything felt a little out of place in what is a meal tending more towards the banquet for two than it is a light lunch on the Med. The burrata was creamy and went well with the oily, basily notes of the green sauce, but the leeks were a bit burnt and therefore more than a bit bitter. Not the end of the world, just not something I'd order again. 

2024 03 18 Lamb Of Tartary Review Leeks Burrata
Burrata, baby leeks and green sauce Image: Confidentials

There was a time when pearl barley risotto was often the only choice for vegetarians on a menu, not so much a considerate inclusion on the menu as an interloper at the party, banging on about hemp. Here it makes a welcome return but in an entirely new wardrobe. Gone are the dungarees, this looks the part and stands up to anything else on the menu. The pearl barley risotto, with three cornered leeks and spenwood cheese (£15), was perfectly al dente, fit to burst with a rich stock and fattened up with plenty of sharp, creamy spenwood. And there's an egg to crack into it for good measure.

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Pearl barley risotto, with three cornered leeks and spenwood cheese Image: Confidentials

Two words; bacon chop. 

This was fantastic, a beautiful execution with no frippery or faffing about; like the lone swing of an axe rather than a convoluted hedge maze of booby traps and jump scares. The belly fat was at just the right point, nearly melting into the ether but still in its physical form, the top skin crispy in a way that feels vaguely sinful, and the bacon a punchy and flavourful combination of being well-raised and fed, cured with care and cooked with love and appreciation. The sauce was soy-sweet and deeply satisfying, a wonderfully simple way to let this cut show its talents. Despite being carved up in an aesthetic fan across the plate, the bone is kept on the side, maybe to remind you where it's from, maybe as a visual flourish, maybe for you to gnaw on like a neanderthal long after the plates are cleared. Pop it in your coat pocket for the train home when no one's looking.

2024 03 18 Lamb Of Tartary Review Bacon Chop
Bacon chop Image: Confidentials

The triple cooked chips (£5) were so perfectly crispy and fatty as to be some sort of terrible temptation, and therefore had to be ordered. The buttered greens (£5), lovely simple cabbage, were one of those side dishes you order to feel better about yourself and leave you feeling fantastic. Like I said, lovely simple cabbage.

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Triple cooked chips Image: Confidentials
2024 03 18 Lamb Of Tartary Review Cabbage
Buttered greens Image: Confidentials

You have to tip your stovepipe hat to Cottonopolis and the tricky teenage years it guided this side of town through, the unending adolescence of dirty burgers, loaded fries, the fatty mire we could have sunk into. 

But now that 'Asian-inspired' is inspiring all sorts of madness across the city centre, I couldn't be more pleased with the transformation this place chose to take on. Some chase trends and end up looking like they've been shot from a cannon through the pages of the Michelin Guide, dazed and confused. The Lamb of Tartary is Bowie in Berlin; simple, self-assured and something all of its own. 

2024 03 18 Lamb Of Tartary Review Interior
The Lamb of Tartary Image: Confidentials

The Lamb of Tartary is on Confidential Guides

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The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 8.5/10

    Carlingford Rock oysters with Yorkshire rhubarb mignonette 8.5, Belted Galloway steak tartare with potato crisps 9, burrata baby leeks and green sauce 7, pearl barley risotto with three cornered leeks and spenwood cheese 8.5, bacon chop 9, triple cooked chips 8.5, buttered greens 8.5

  • Service 4/5

  • Ambience 4.5/5

    Your local that wins the lottery but doesn't let it change them