David Adamson opens up over lunch in snowy Macclesfield
What: Savages Mussels Bar
Where: Church Street, Macclesfield
Food/drink type: Mussels, seafood starters and sides, but mostly mussels
When: Mon: Closed // Tues 12 - 4pm // Weds – Sat: 12 - 11pm // Sunday: 12 - 6pm
independent or chain: Independent
Beardy, hermetic and maybe not to everyone's taste, I feel an affinity with mussels.
There's plenty of opportunities to be put off by these most affronting of molluscs: unopened, the bluey-black, comma-like shells show no signs of being a food at all; opened, they may still have some convincing to do.
But then some of the more satisfying dishes take a certain level of mental gymnastics, a disconnecting of the palate from a swirling collage of childhood hangups, prejudices and iron-clad associations.
Personally, I don't get it. Eating mussels is one of those great delights when enjoyed periodically.
I couldn't have them for my lunch every day, even crouched dockside in Collioure with a cluster of leathery Catalan fishermen, a thumbs up shouldering the work of my shoddy French.
So it's all the better when the opportunity just comes around, and in Macclesfield of all places.
Squeezed into a small unit between a barbers and The Castle pub, Savages Mussels Bar is snugly ensconced in its new premises after stints as a pop-up and, latterly, in the Macclesfield Picturedrome food hall.
However this cosy spot is just that, cosy. No two-cover tables piled up like bunk beds, the aromas of your dinner battling on the air with the chatter of the couple next door.
The bar and kitchen, raised up at the back of the room, overlook an easygoing atmosphere, all eased by the understated decor. Yes, there are sea-blues and the odd slight nod to the nautical, but for a mussels restaurant it could have crashed headlong into the rocks and come off a bit themey. There's a whiff of sea air but no more.
The Main Event
I began by ordering an intriguing starter; popcorn mussels (£9.50) with pickled carrot, pickled red onion and a strawberry chilli jam. As much as I love deep-fried foods of almost any variety, it's not enough to simply drag animal, vitamin or mineral through some flour and fling it in hot oil.
Savages clearly understand that. The flour was dusted liberally with cumin, turmeric and paprika and the plump mussels coated well so that when they arrived they were an enticing golden brown. Coupled with the lurid pink, orange and red of the pickles and jam, it made a pretty plate of food.
The taste of cumin especially rang through beautifully, offsetting the potentially samey flavours of mussels and fry batter. After all, it is pretty much all you're going to eat, so you want to be sure you won't be bored in four mussels' time. I certainly wasn't. If anything I was casting my mind forward to the moules marinière and wondering if I was perilously close to filling up. I ordered the moules and eagerly finished the ones in front of me, piling the pickles atop a jam-drenched moule. Call it a Macclesfield canapé.
With moules marinière (£14.95) you should know what's on its way. Fresh, fat mussels clambering out of a broth of white wine, garlic and parsley, with a touch of cream and a flotsam of shallots floating in amongst it all. Oh, and bread.
The broth was clearly the result of time spent simmering on the hob. You just know when you've been short-changed in this respect, when the wine, cream and surrounding flavours awkwardly eye one another from across the bowl. Here they were a tight-knit clique, and took me back to the heady, sea-flecked summer holidays spent sat at San Vicens, the Collioure clocktower looming.
The Main Event
There's many a fad doing the rounds, but remaining strangely fad-free is mussels. Those that love them will love Savages, as their busy weekend bookings already suggest, and while it may seem odd to dedicate an entire restaurant to molluscs, I think Savages is onto something.
Savages Mussels Bar, 23b Church Street, Macclesfield, SK11 6LB
Popcorn mussels 8.5, Moules mariniere 8.5
Relaxed staff and chatty chefs made me feel very welcome.
Visited on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but the busy weekends would bump up the score I'm sure.