David Adamson hits the pub via Hong Kong
What: Hong Kong-inspired pub
Where: 80 Stamford New Road, Altrincham
Food/drink type: Craft beer, wine, cocktails, modern Hong Kong Cuisine
When: Mon and Tues: Closed // Weds and Thurs 5 - 11pm // Fri 4 - midnight // Sat midday - midnight // Sun midday - 9pm
Independent or chain: Independent
Long before it was the Lyon of Greater Manchester, replete with more restaurants, bars and cafes than you can shake a cockapoo at, Altrincham was a great town for pubs, appreciated by the crimson tide of United fans that wash through its streets every Saturday.
Along with a recent influx of smug marrieds, Alty and Trafford more widely has become a haven for Hong Kongers. This welcome diaspora (Hong Kongers, not smug marrieds) has brought with it quality restaurants, cafes and supermarkets, but what about that most cherished of English institutions, the pub? There's one of them as well.
Harcourt is my kind of place, avoiding all the worst aspects of too many a modern English pub: the beige, faceless decor; books as wallpaper; a Guantanamo-grade Spotify playlist; Barry at the bar making you suffer for that horse he lost on ten years ago. Or even worse than all of the above, a void of space and time that sells only Stella.
Harcourt is characterful, the right side of shabby but not slacking on what matters - beer, atmosphere and a little something to eat with your pint. And of course, this being Hong Kong, a touch of neon.
I was sold before the likes of Louis Armstrong's Le Vie en Rose or Steely Dan came on, but now I'd make it my local were it not for the four day hike I'd have to take from Levenshulme every evening.
The Main Event
I arrived just after opening time at 5pm and had the choice of any seat. I chose the stools at the bar, seeing as it seems an increasingly rare opportunity to have in a pub, and is a nice change from a table; a different level of pub food eaten at barfly height.
With a pint of Cloudwater's Piccadilly Pilsner (£5.20) cushioned on a tasteful cork beermat, I ordered some starters. First were the Hong Kong style deep-fried chicken wings (eight for £7.90). Served in an inviting ceramic bowl, the wings were marinated in a something both sweet and salty that to me had the tang of five spice. For something that is most closely associated with being 'beer food' outside of the humble pork scratching, chicken wings are so often a non-entity. These were very much not that (an entity?). Addictively sweet, they were an ideal accompaniment to a pint.
Next was the crispy prawn toast with salted egg yolk (five for £9.20), which were a welcome departure from the usual cookie-cutter form, although I'll never tire of the classic iteration. Bitesize and packed with prawny flavour, this was a little overwhelmed by the deep yolky overtones for my taste, but was a strong and punchy bar snack that egg-lovers will flock towards.
Mains took the shape of the braised beef brisket and tendon with white radishes and rice (£13.50). Floating on a deeply boney and delicious broth, the generous chunks of well-seasoned beef were tender and and tasty to the end, avoiding that all-too-familiar problem with braised beef; being left still chewing long after any flavour has remained. The broth and tendon clearly kept the beef stewing nicely. A fantastic pre-match pint accompaniment, or something to steady you after one too many.
There'll always be pubs aplenty in Altrincham, but the homogeny can get a little tiring. With an injection of something different and altogether more intruiging on offer, Harcourt does a sterling job of establishing itself amongst the regulars of the town centre.
Landlords, take note. This Hong Kong-inspired pub should inspire others to introduce some variety to the old English pub, neon signs or not.
Harcourt, 80 Stamford New Rd, Altrincham WA14 1BS
Chicken wings 8, Prawn toast 7.5, Braised beef brisket with rice 8