Lucy Tomlinson wants more than steaks, burgers and pizzas - but when you're geared towards families why bother?
When I visit a restaurant for a review I often try swerve away from such obvious favourites as steaks, burgers and pizzas. The thing about these particular dishes is that even a mediocre effort can still satisfy due to the magical alchemy of their constituents: carbs, meat and quite likely cheese. They also don’t lend themselves well to description.
It’s much more interesting, and a better test of the kitchen, to follow a chef’s flight of fancy down a rabbit hole of micro herbs, game, innards, cereal milk and nutritional yeast (sometimes that’s just in one dish). Of course, whether interesting and tasty intersect is down to the chef. But what indulges a chef (and makes a writer’s job easier) is not always what actual customers want. There has to be a balance between the two.
Here the pendulum has swung firmly in favour of the customer. The Surgery in Urmston is set within a handsome brick building (which used to be a doctor’s surgery - hence the name) with a smart navy and neutral interior. The standout feature is an enormous wood-fired pizza oven in an open kitchen - for steaks, burgers and pizza are your lot. These are mega crowd-pleasers for sure, and I don’t blame this family–owned business for playing it safe, but it makes it hard to know where to look for those flourishes.
The pizza-burger-steak loop had me thrown, or at least, that’s how I explain ordering many variants of bread and cheese. The first starter was the doughbombs (£6), which varied only from your average doughball with the inclusion of mozzarella. I felt pretty certain they had not been made in-house. I did like the baked Camembert (£7, pictured main), studded with roasted garlic and rosemary and scooped up with, yes that’s right, bread. Abandon all hopes of going Paleo here.
Unless you order a steak that is (and you should, paleo or not). The ‘black stone fillet steak’ (£22) is phenomenal. It comes from the butcher over the road and is a cracking piece of meat, though also the most expensive dish on the menu so you’d hope so. For those of you wondering if the ‘black stone’ part refers to the farm, or even the cow, of origin, it is actually the method of cooking. Adopting the same method as the raclette or the Korean barbecue, you are presented your steak on a black stone that has been heated to roughly the same temperature as the sun. You then let it cook for the required time and transfer it to your own plate - a nifty trick for avoiding the common complaint that the steak is not cooked to the customer’s specification. This is also a neat bit of theatre, though once done you are left with a sketchy health and safety risk, threatening to incinerate shirt cuffs and stray fingers.
As for the accompaniments, the sweet potatoes fries were spot on, the salad a bit on the limp side, and both dipping sauces - the fiery chimichurrio (described as South American salsa verde) and a retro peppercorn (both £2) – did the job.
Unfortunately, the steak wasn’t mine. I’d ordered a white pizza with sausage and broccoli (pictured main)... yes, more bread and cheese. The base was good but the broccoli was oddly sweet, possibly soaked in red wine vinegar or similar. So much so it reminded me of an old-fashioned sweet - a pineapple cube perhaps?. Not unpleasant but maybe not the best for pizza.
For pudding we shared a cheesecake in a little mason jar lifted out of mediocrity by a lush and blessedly unsweetened slurp of passion fruit.
Here is my favourite thing about The Surgery: it’s really family friendly and the staff seem to love having kids about. I know this is a controversial topic, but I’m increasingly of the mind that if you can’t take a kid to a restaurant then it’s not worth going to (whether other customers agree is a whole other topic – I’m guessing many of you won’t). Where The Surgery really wins though is that these families, as if by some unspoken agreement, drain out by 7pm leaving the child-free to get on with the serious business of eating steak and drinking cocktails. Everyone’s a winner - except perhaps those parent’s looking back longingly at the cocktails.
The Surgery, 1 Primrose Ave, Urmston, Manchester M41 0TY t:0161 282 0556.
Doughbombs 4, Camembert 6, Steak 8, Pizza 5, Cheesecake 6
Bustling, music slightly too loud for this old fogey