Neil Sowerby finds a newcomer making small plates great again
Another 10 minutes I’ll never get back. I couldn’t resist a weekend Guardian article entitled "Still Hungry? How we fell out of love with small plates". One Imogen West-Knights reporting from the front line. Like "Dungarees are making a stylish comeback" or "Yet another posh superfood, you suckers", it didn’t quite feel at the top of my personal agenda.
Our second dessert, Dormouse chocolate, beetroot, olive oil is genius
When food banks are rammed and folk can’t afford the gas to boil a spud, I don’t want to hear quoted the smart-arse New York Times reviewer who described sharing plates as “a communal dining experience in the sense that a piranha feast is communal.”
Maybe I’m being too harsh. There was common sense too in the piece: “Generally speaking, small plates work for chefs. With lots of smaller dishes, there is more room for chefs to be creative, to try out things they wouldn’t want to commit to on one of five main courses. They also allow for a cheaper kitchen set-up as dishes go out to diners when they’re ready, rather than a table of six needing six main courses at the same time.”
Never apter at this pressured time when hiring staff is harder than sourcing a vegan piranha.
In her list of small plate standard-bearers Ms W-K name-checked Erst in Ancoats, drooled over by the same paper’s Jay Rayner, a critic of self-proclaimed large appetites yet aware that culinary quality trumps size, always. Fads, trends, obsessions? Just taste what’s lovingly slapped in front of you. If you’re not full, order more. If you can afford it.
Small is beautiful. There are only 24 covers at Another Hand in the (up till now) commercial backwater that is Deansgate Mews. Their neighbours are equally small scale, including Three Hands Deli two doors away. This collab with Holy Grain baker Danny Foggo was the base camp for chef/co-owner Julian Pizer’s new "hands-on" small plates project.
The Kiwi dynamo shares a CV that includes Cottonopolis and the Edinburgh Castle with Max Yorke, his sidekick in the open kitchen. Together they have taken their inventive food up several notches.
Not that you’d really twig from the breakfast/brunch/lunch menu from 8.30am-3pm, where standouts are the grilled sandwiches, using Holy Grain’s organic naturally leavened bread. It could be one of a dozen places in town. Very few, though, with a list of suppliers that includes Cinderwood Market Garden and Platt Fields Market Garden for veg and Littlewoods Butchers for meat.
Come 5pm and the evening menu reveals a different beast that bows to no one – Erst, Elnecot, Flawd, 10 Tib Lane, fellow newcomer The Alan, Uncle Tom Tapas and all. We tried eight dishes and the immediate comparison was with The Moorcock at Norland, the astonishing Pennine gastropub that, the day we dined at Another Hand, announced it was to close.
Even the early evening sun burnishing the orange booths couldn’t banish the ill wind of that news. Then the ordered dishes started filtering out two by two, Noah’s Ark style, at a civilised pace and suddenly the world seemed brighter.
Whipped cod roe (£6.50 off the snacks menu) whips the arse off commercial taramosalata – a gossamer blend of smoked roe, sumac, cream cheese and lemon. But that’s just the start. Nesting on its swirl is a relish of three-cornered leek foraged by Julian and seasoned with wild garlic oil and tomato ponzu. And for added rustic ballast, three roughagey toasts of Holy Grain sunflower and pumpkin seed 100% rye sourdough.
The roe is soothing and punchy at the same time, but beef tartare (£8) makes a real statement with its flavourings for diced aged beef fillet – a tumble of shallot, shio koji, aged soy, chives, tomato ponzu, last year’s nasturtium capers and unripened elderberry capers. To finish it is covered by a disc of lacto-fermented celeriac that has been barbecued. Cured egg yolk and chives complete a sublime interpretation of a classic.
It’s a time of year when Hampshire’s finest chalk stream trout (£9 here) feature on many a menu. Few get this treatment, culminating in a table side dousing with a dashi broth made from smoked turnips and burnt apple. The trout has first been lightly cured in salt and lime. Cubed, it is mixed with a Devil Dog hot sauce of apricot and black cardamom, pickled apple and turnip, then covered with shavings of radish and pressed Granny Smith. It’s another astonishing assault on the palate (in a good way).
Aromatic chopped lamb (£10) is a dead ringer for a laap (or laab or larb) I always order at Kiln in Soho, specialists in North Eastern Thai food. And it’s just as good, offering a riot of garlic, ginger, chilli, spring onion, soy, oyster, fish sauce, lime, roasted sesame oil, coriander and mint. Somewhere in there the lamb rests on charred little gem hearts.
Julian tells me the rare breed pork belly (£11) is brined in lager and spices, then slow-cooked in a water bath for 18 hours before being finished on the barbecue. So, incredibly tender without the flaccidity of sous vide. Perhaps the most conventional dish on the menu, it’s served with a burnt apple jam, butternut purée and cider sauce.
It’s good to see more and more restaurants making solid use of polyspore mushrooms (£9) from Altrincham’s urban mushroom farm. In this case seven different fungi, lightly sautéed with buttered radicchio, then topped with an emulsion made from the kitchen’s 18 month fermented, unripened pine cone syrup and sherry vinegar plus hazelnuts. An undertow of horseradish hits the spot.
Rhubarb, white grape, set cream (£5) is the simpler of our two puds, a soothing prototype for a more complex dish on the way, utilising a syrup of foraged magnolia petals.
Our second dessert, Dormouse chocolate, beetroot, olive oil (£5) is genius, using a duo single estate chocolates, from Guatemala and Madagascar sourced from award-winning chocolatier neighbour Isobel Carse – whipped dark and set milk chocolate ganache, layered roasted red grapes, beetroot discs, sour beetroot jelly, smoked sea salt and olive oil. Some toasted white choc as an extra treat.
The wine list veers towards the funky, natural end of the spectrum. Great value and very approachable is the Cotes du Rhone red we had, "Les Oliviers", at £21 a bottle, £5.50 a glass, from Les Vignerons d’Estezargues, arguably France’s most enlightened co-operative.
Requiem for small plates? At your jaded peril when they fit like a glove at Another Hand.
Another Hand, Unit F 253 Deansgate Mews, Great Northern Warehouse, Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN
Follow Neil Sowerby on Twitter @antonegomanc
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Cod roe 8, tartare 10, trout 9, lamb 10, pork 8, mushrooms 8, rhubarb 8, chocolate 10.
Often it seems an affectation if the chefs take turns to introduce each dish. Not when a dining experience is as intimate as this.
Warm, casual, the very definition of a hidden gem. It won’t be for long.