NUTTERS restaurant recently celebrated its twenty-first birthday with a party, a democratic spectacular open to his loyal punters.
Maybe the absence of both main men was responsible. The meticulous front of house presence of Rod was an immediate miss; only later did I gather Andrew wasn’t cooking that night.
Chef Andrew (interviewed here) loves a party – his own and other folk’s. His St George’s Day bashes at the gorgeously fitted out eighteenth century manor house above Norden are a hoot, if you’re up for flag-waving and singing along to Land of Hope and Glory.
This is the man who once turned up at an awards dinner with 'Nutter' shaved into the back of his head and fronted a Channel 5 series called Utter Nutter. Now past 40, he’s still the man for a celebrity chef cook-off or even a naked photo opportunity.
So he’s not shy. He is also an extremely talented cook with a firm grounding in classic techniques. He was a boy at The Savoy. Whether he has ever been “one of the most exciting and innovative chefs of his generation”, as his website proclaims, is pushing it a bit far. I have always treasured the consistency of his output from those early days in an old moorland pub further on towards Edenfield. And for all the show-off stuff and party animal antics, you’ll find him at his own stove more regularly than most big names.
He and his dad Rod, have built the business up methodically, the investment paying off in today’s top-end chrome fittings and fine crockery feel to the place. It has not always been so smooth. In previous manifestations pre-Nutter, it was a night club and later a family fun pub (I can recall the 'ball pool' sign remaining up for a while).
Today, despite the celebrity trappings and merchandise stall by the bar, it retains a curious ecclesiastical aura with all the plaster ceilings, dark wood and arched Gothic windows. Old comfort zone stuff; the menu reads like an old acquaintance, too.
All of which pains me to report a slightly diminished dinner experience this time around. Maybe the absence of both main men was responsible. The meticulous front of house presence of Rod was an immediate miss; only later did I gather Andrew wasn’t cooking that night. It shouldn’t matter at this level (Nutters is on the shortlist for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival awards 'Restaurant of the Year'), but on a busy night there was an underlying sense of strain.
It took the best part of 45 minutes to get a member of staff to pour us some jug water. We had mentioned to passing waiters 'it would be nice' a couple of times, just as we had requested our Sancerre Rouge might benefit from a stretch in an ice bucket. Eventually we located one in a corner and looked after the chilling ourselves. The slightly earthy Loire pinot noir, by the way, was a good value, silky, cherryish treat for £29.95 from an excellent list. Service continued to feel distracted; bread, when it arrived, was dull.
The menu is full of Nutter signature touches – among the starters crispy black pudding wontons, crispy lobster fritters and pork belly China Town style with ginger and spring onions.
I went for lobster, but in composed salad form (£9.50) from the specials. Shallot and basil vinaigrette and diced tomato salsa enhanced the delicate sweetness of the crustacean curls, but underneath lay an over-saccharine and creamy coleslaw.
My wife’s brill fillet starter (£8.20) was a curious affair. There was an oddly glutinous feel to the lobster bisque, ballasted by courgette and tomato 'confit', and the fillet was slightly overcooked under its thick herb pesto crust.
I asked for my main, a fillet of Limousin beef (£23.50), to be served rare. It came out medium under another herby crust, which this fine tranche of well-hung flesh from the Eden Valley really didn’t need. I sought in vain for a significant trace of the wild mushroom advertised in the potato gratin.
The Nutters menu is not given to the verbal flounces of 'pork cooked three ways'. Hence the 'Trio of Dingley Dell Pork: Confit pork belly served with a slow-braised pig cheek, ham hock and chive mash potato and a port wine reduction' (£18.80). Fine combo, maybe the belly was a mite flabby. Both mains were smoothly accomplished but hardly challenging, which summed up the whole meal.
The stand-out element was undoubtedly my pud – a whimberry tart with mango sorbet (£6.50). A thin crisp pate sucre teeming with my favourite berry and topped with a vivid mango sorbet, it was sensational stuff. At the same price, my wife’s prettily presented chocolate delice lacked a similar intensity.
Follow Neil on Twitter @AntonEgoManc
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL.
Nutters, Edenfield Road, Rochdale, OL12 7TT. 01706 650167.
Food: 7/10 (Lobster salad 7, brill 6, beef 7, pork 7, whimberry tart 9, chocolate delice 6)
PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.