Davey Brett goes for a trim and Palestinian taboon roll in Stalybridge
I’ve got a soft spot for rundown towns. As someone who grew up in Grimsby, I know them well. I pass through a fair few of them on the train home to see my 'rents. I might even playfully refer to them as shitholes now and again.
Now, I’m not saying Stalybridge is a shithole but walking down Market Street from the train station on a Saturday lunchtime, it’s fair to say the place has seen better days. It’s eerily quiet as I walk past closed shops towards the river. Surely not everyone in town has put their high-vis chaps on and gone to Parklife. Where are all the people?
Nans sit for coffee alongside gym-conscious lads in shorts and Nike Airmax 95s demolishing poached eggs
That high street stroll is an eye-opener. Quaint shop units cling to the streets, many of which are empty or shuttered. You can’t help but gentrify some of it in your mind as you walk through. A bingo hall that would suit an Altrincham Market-style operation. Some smaller spots that Gary Usher might crowdfund some life into.
How do you bring a bit of energy back to this? I think, as an
But as I walk into Gladstone Barber & Bistro, it turns out a lot of Stalybridge is in here. The place is abuzz with people of all ages sitting for lunch. I’ll join them shortly but first I’m here to sample the grooming side of things. My boff chop awaits.
I’m not usually one for haircuts. I’ve always approached them as more of a pragmatic shearing rather than an enjoyable moment in style. I go in with good intentions and come out feeling like a coconut, with a side of guilt for leaving the floor covered in ginger Brillo pad. Barbers: it’s not you, it’s me.
What’s good about the Gladstone experience is the combination doesn’t feel forced. In an airy space that’s blessed with natural light, sitting at the foot of a new-build complex that wouldn’t feel out of place in Ancoats, the atmosphere is surprisingly welcoming.
As I get my hair cut, my barber tells me that Gladstone the barbers has been around for nearly a decade, the bistro itself opened in July last year. Despite the inevitable teething problems, it’s proven popular and a look through the long central sliding glass doors that separate the two operations confirms that a variety of ages enjoy coming here.
Nans sit for coffee alongside gym-conscious lads in shorts and Nike Airmax 95s demolishing poached eggs. A fine example of "build it and they will come".
Trim finished, it’s time to eat. Although there are clues - the head barber's football top is a giveaway and the breakfast menu has taboon rolls - it’s not until we swap the breakfast menu for lunch that it dawns on me that a Palestinian feast awaits us. I’d foolishly assumed it’d be standard eggs and avo brunch fare.
What comes out of the Gladstone kitchen is a mixture of family-inspired Palestinian staples and aesthetically-minded ambition. Before I tuck into my chicken musakhan (£10) and my friend his lamb shawarma taboon roll (£9), we just look at them. Each a pillowy, slightly sweet homemade flatbread stacked with juicy spiced meat, accented by colourful yoghurt, salad, pickle and almonds.
We get a selection of mezze to share in the form of falafel (£3.95), spicy harissa potatoes (£3) and mshat - spiced cauliflower fritters (£3.95) too. Any more and we’d burst.
It quickly becomes apparent from chatting to those around us that we’re eating a version of what head barber, and wearer of Palestine footy shirts, Yezzan Khalil grew up with. One of six brothers with a Palestinian dad, it feels like we’re being treated to family-sized portions straight out of his childhood kitchen.
The mshat is an immediate favourite. Little parcels of spice and earthy veg that lend themselves to being dipped in the vibrantly coloured sumac yoghurt. I’d love a little pile of them at home with a beer. The spicy harissa potatoes provide a noticeable kick of chilli whilst the falafel are enjoyably crisp on the outside with a lingering heat ever so softened by the tahini sauce they sit on.
Back to the mains and the amount of chicken on my plate is almost shocking. A great roasted leg, skin slightly crisp, juicy enough to peel away in layers and combine with the yoghurt, pickle and flatbread. It’s hearty food that would make a great foundation for those tackling the Transpennine real ale trail that takes in Stalybridge Buffet Bar.
My friend's lamb shawarma is slow-cooked and juicy with plenty of shatta, tahini sauce and red cabbage ketchup to spread across what is an expansive piece of flatbread. Both are enjoyable collages of spicy cumin and sumac offset by the sweetness of the cabbage.
Run-down towns like Stalybridge need places like Gladstone. An injection of new ideas and ambition but not repressively cool to the point of being exclusionary. The team is young and friendly, the atmosphere is fresh and welcoming and the food comes from a familiar place of warmth and care whilst also showing flair and promise.
Whether this signals a brighter future for Stalybridge or not, I’m keen to come back to see how they get on.
Gladstone Barber & Bistro Castle St, Stalybridge SK15 1NX
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.
falafel 7, mshat 8, harissa potatoes 7, lamb shawarma 7, chicken musakhan 7
Knowledgable and warm, welcome to the family
Friendly, comfortable, whether you're a man or a nan