Neil Sowerby enjoys a fickle pickle at Levy's neighbourhood gem
Let me admit once again to an existential dread of chefs bearing dishes to the table. Remembering that occasion, not far down the road from this latest assignment, when one broke free from his open kitchen to inform me: “We have grown this heritage tomato for you.” On its rustic little platter, it was indeed a sphere of loveliness, blushing at being centre stage, but enough’s enough.
Much of the menu is a hymn to that over-used trope, seasonality.
A fad that won’t go away, it’s not unknown for some cool tasting menu establishments to rota in each leather-aproned line chef to introduce a course - like an extension of wine pairings.
At Nordie the new chef just wanted to say hello. Like you do in an unashamed neighbourhood bar. Front-of-house service from Jen had been surefooted across a succession of small plates of Heath Linn’s devising. Without fanfare, he brought us our finale – a scoop of chocolate creme Anglaise and strawberries with olive oil and sea salt (£7). Like almost every dish that had gone before it was not stridently calling for attention, just whispering of well-matched, seasonal ingredients.
Chorley-raised Heath was happy to let us quiz him about his Michelin-starry CV that includes Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Tommy Banks’ Yorkshire empire as well a stint in Melbourne for the legendary Scott Pickett. Why now a minimalist bar in a former repair shop on Levenshulme’s A6 drag? “I answered the ad.”
When Oddie McClintock and partner Megan Hyland opened Nordie three years ago it quickly established a reputation for its natural wines, cocktails and beers. Oddie had managed the Pilcrow pumps, say no more. Yet food was never really part of the equation until they extended the kitchen at the back and found room for 60 inside covers. So now Friday to Sunday daytime they offer walk-in breakfast and brunch with Heath manning the stove Thursday to Sunday evenings.
The dinner times then are fixed; just don’t expect the menus to be. Olives and house fries with Espelette aioli aside. In a shape-shifting offering, pickles may be more fickle. We kicked off with a soused combo of grapes, cauliflower and red cabbage (£3.50), a sharp partner to a duo of Smoked Lancashire gougères (savoury profiteroles with a determined cheesiness, £5.50). Devilled eggs, doused in spicy vadouvan mayo and sprinkled with crisp onions (£5) were equally potent finger food.
House wine, by the glass, was to be natural – Vinho Verde for her, Cinsault red for me, sourced from the canny Les Caves de Pyrene in Guildford – but I couldn’t resist one pickle-friendly West Coast Pale for starters. Just as a nightcap Negroni Fragola, fragrant with their own strawberry-infused Campari, seemed a natural fit with that choccy pud.
Oddie credits Littlewoods Butchers a mile away in Heaton Chapel as the bar’s meat suppliers but in the current evening menu only the onglet – hanger steak – represents the pleasures of the flesh. And how. The chewy, slightly gamey pink slices got the rich "beef sauce" they deserve with, I suspect, wine, shallots and herbs in the mix. Mopping it up a straggle of wilted swiss chard that also takes no prisoners.
At £14 this is the most expensive dish, matched only by Heath’s take on cavatelli, the hand-pinched semolina and water pasta of Southern Italy. He married the tiny torpedoes with the nuttiness of mousserons (the "fairy ring" mushroom), ricotta and courgettes, all on a puree of Wye Valley asparagus for a zip of spring chlorophyll.
Next up came the spud-driven cousins of cavatelli, gnocchi, comfortingly light examples with tomato, black olive and pecorino (£11). Seared squid with red pepper, oregano and lashings of olive oil (£10) offered that same Med bistro feel
Much of the menu is a hymn to that over-used trope, seasonality. Hence artichokes à la barigoule (£8). Life’s too short for most home cooks outside Provence and Italy to endure the prickly chore of tackling globe artichokes, even when they’re at their peak, i.e. now. The barigoule method braises the hearts in white wine, olive oil and aromatics. The Nordie version was fine but maybe not fine enough to sway this arti-sceptic.
More French-style braising (with bacon, onion and lettuce) behind the peas à la française in the one dish that didn’t live up to the rest of an impressive menu – Jersey royals with girolles, goats curd and peas (£8). Maybe it stemmed from the bacon or a too liberal application cooking the potatoes but the dish was puckeringly salty.
That minor caveat apart, Nordie’s evening menu is further proof that a dining-out expedition to Levenshulme is no longer governed by a love of Asian spicing. In the footsteps of Isca and Cibus there’s another casual foodie must-visit within a five-minute radius of Levy station.
Nordie, 1044 Stockport Rd, Manchester, M19 3WX. Evening menu available Thursday-Saturday 5-9pm.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
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.
Pickles 8, gougeres 7, devilled eggs 7, squid 8, artichoke 7, jersey royals 5, gnocchi 8, cavatelli 8, onglet 8, strawberries 8
Beautifully paced, well informed with a sense of fun.
It says neighbourhood on the can and delivers it.