Jonathan Schofield has the best pork chop of his life
Ogden Nash, the witty, ditty writer, once penned this number.
‘The pig, if I am not mistaken/ Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon/ Let others say his heart is big/I call it stupid of the pig.’
It’s not his best and it’s not accurate. The other evening I had proof of the big heartedness of the pig laid out on a plate in El Camino at the Cotton Factory.
It was the way the so-tender flesh had such rich flavour that will live long in the memory.
El Camino sits in three knitted together former textile warehouses which host the aparthotel called Whitworth Locke at the junction of Princess Street and Whitworth Street. Yep, that’s lock with a ‘e’, like the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke, but with no higher purpose, it appears, in these premises, than marketing. The building lies adjacent to Rochdale Canal and a lock with no ‘e’.
The interior design of Whitworth Locke underscores the bold industrial past. It’s the work of New York interior designers, Grzywinski + Pons. They have been quoted as saying: "This commission had special resonance for us as the beautiful former textile warehouses and showroom were highly reminiscent of some of the earliest work we did designing interventions to 19th-century masonry buildings in our native New York City. The proportions, materials, textures and quality of light we inherited felt a bit like home and demanded to be exalted."
As usual, with architects and interior designers this is written in a way that makes you wonder if English is their first language, but you can see what they mean.
Back to the pig, back to my pork chop.
The fact that El Camino has a Mexican theme is neither here nor there when it came to my pork delight (£14.95). It was chunky, juicy, full-on, charcoal-grilled and as tender as a mother’s love. It was the best pork chop I’ve ever eaten, with great fat and crackling too. But it was the way the so-tender flesh had such rich flavour that will live long in the memory. Pork, can be a lumpen, clumsy thing when it comes to tickling the tastebuds, which is why restaurants often reject it. Pork, if you forgive the pun, can be a bore. This one was the opposite of that. The rice base was good too as was a mango salsa which danced well with the meat.
The other main of sea bream (£13.95) was a success. The skin was perfect, with peppery heat, the flesh again wonderfully moist and elegant. The heritage tomatoes worked a treat with the fish. As usual there was two much rocket. I've been waging a personal war against the ludicrous overuse of rocket for years. It's doesn't look like I'm about to win anytime soon.
Taco starters of beer braised ox cheek and massa fried chicken (both £4.25) were very good. The better of the two was the beer braised ox cheek which with chipotle aioli, pickled red chilli and crisped shallots all rolled up inside soft tacos made for a fiery and very entertaining result. A dulce de leche (£5.95) was satisfyingly rich and caramel-like with a good crack-like-an-egg sugar cap.
I confess I expected little of El Camino because I'm tired of half-arsed Mexican fare popping up. The quality here was a real surprise and a welcome one. The cooking was as sharp-as-a-pin, colourfully presented, with great flavours and doled out by engaged and amiable staff.
What's also interesting is that El Camino is a temporary tenant at The Cotton Factory. They'll be here for about six months and then another food theme will be chosen which will, in turn, be replaced after three months, and so on.
So the message is clear.
Get in and snaffle yourself a big-hearted pork chop as soon as you can. I'm off there for my tea today.
El Camino at the Cotton Factory, 74 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6JD. 0161 989 0845
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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.
Beef taco 7.5, chicken taco 6.5, chop 9, bream 7.5, dulce 7
Friendly and knowledgeable
Relaxed and easy