Lucy Tomlinson braves Chester Road and finds a confident neighbourhood pop-up
Ah Stretford. I got in trouble once for quoting an MEN article that said Stretford was ‘struggling with its reputation’. Somebody called me a C-word on Facebook. Thing is I love Stretford. I live in Stretford. I do not, however, love Chester Road, where you'll find Bistro 1116, formerly the Ski Club pop-up so-called because it is number 1116 on that dreaded ribbon of diesel fumes and despair. It now hosts monthly pop-ups which have so far included Portuguese cuisine and Dr. Sid’s Speakeasy. Right now it’s accommodating Stretford Canteen, which started life in Stretford, whizzed over to Chorlton, and is back in M32 for the duration of July. Phew.
My memory is that I really enjoyed Stretford Canteen when it were nowt but a wee slip of a pop-up, though rereading my review the scores seem a bit tight. I have to admit that what I remember most, apart from a general feeling of contentment, was that the cheese came served on an enormous plate that made you feel as though your sense of perspective was off. That and the waitress, who was the mother of someone involved, drafted in for the evening.
These days the cheese seems to be served on normal-sized plates, portions in general have really beefed up and someone’s mum has been given the night off, replaced by waitresses who vaguely match in Breton stripes.
I wasn’t sure if Bistro 1116 was BYOB or not, so I brought a bottle of wine in my handbag just in case (honestly, it’s there for professional reasons). Though it turned out they do have a licence and a small but reasonably priced selection of wines. They also serve a few cocktails. We had a G&T and a lovely English Garden (£8), which was gin, mint, Prosecco and, if they wanted to be accurate, rainwater (I'd bet somewhere in Northern Quarter serves a cocktail with rainwater).
The menu too is largely English, or British-ish, based on simple, seasonal, local ingredients. I was delighted for instance, to see a starter based around broad beans (£5). The young beans are thumbnail-sized and just sweet enough inside their skins. But even at their tender best, broad beans are not the most exciting, until paired with salt, smoke, fat and acid. The first three of which are provided by generous lappets of really decent bacon cooked with the fat crisped to brown - as it should be. The last of the coven of flavour changers comes from a hunk of lemon squeezed over the oily beans to make an impromptu peasant's vinaigrette. All this heaped on top of a generous mattress of sourdough was much too much for a starter really, but who complains about receiving too much food?
The second starter of baked spinach and egg (£5, pictured top) also hit the right notes, with a additional flourish of cream, cheese and nutmeg, served in a dinky little pan that just managed to slip beneath the wanky-things-to-serve-food-in grade, as it actually makes sense. The only slight flaw was the spinach, which needed a good squeeze after wilting.
The main courses followed the same pattern of one stunner and one attractive-enough-but-there-mainly-to-service-the-plot. The stunner in question was the braised chicken leg with smoked lardons, tarragon and fennel (£11). Now this was a normal-looking meal (basically a pot roast) which people don't normally get, with layers of flavour and no tricks. It wasn't styled or drizzled or smeared, it was just good - as though somebody had bothered to read all of Nigel Slater's books and put it into practice.
The less-favoured dish was an asparagus tart (£10.50, pictured top) which was lovely in some ways but a bit thick around the crust. Sides of cauliflower cheese and greens with chilli and garlic were good too, but surplus to requirements.
We finished off with a dessert of chocolate mousse (£5) and a wine-poached peach (£5). The peach was decent but suffered from the severe design flaw of being almost impossible to eat as it slipped and slid around beneath the prodding of the supplied teaspoon. With a bit of concentration I did manage to get a few bites, but at this stage of the meal I wasn’t prepared to work that hard. The mousse wasn't really a mousse – more of a fondant or a truffle.
A word about the service. It was slow. The Breton-striped waitresses were sweet and this was more of a kitchen issue, but I did wonder what had happened to that mum. I should also mention that to apologise for how long we waited for our meals they offered us drinks on the house, which, of course, due to journalistic integrity, I declined, but not before my partner ordered a G&T and lost all self-respect.
So, Stretford Canteen has got bolder and more confident over the last year or so. It’s home cooking but, when it’s right, perfectly judged home cooking. It’s tasteful and tasty, substantial but refined, modest but superior. Shame about Chester Road, but then that could be Stretford's municipal motto.
Bistro 1116, 1116 Chester Road, M32 0HA.
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)
(broad beans 8, spinach 6, chicken 7, tart 6, chocolate mousse 6, peach 7)
Cute space with a lively neighbourhood buzz