IF YOU Google Altrincham’s Conservative Club, you’ll reach a website which tells you that it was established 100 years ago, has a very active social calendar, three snooker tables, a golf society and an indoor bowling club. That’s probably not the one you’re after.
It felt so unbalanced, there can be no way this dish had actually been tried by the chefs before they put it on the menu
The one in question here is a new restaurant, bar and microbrewery on the site of the former Altrincham Conservative Working Men’s Club, opposite the busy market hall. The man behind this is David Vanderhook, owner of The George Charles pub in Didsbury and Lime Bar in Salford Quays. He’s taken full advantage of the market overspill to create a kind of middle class canteen for folk who want to take a G&T break from buying reclaimed, vintage, tasteful tat. These people are legion, and just so you know, it seems babies are the latest must-have Altrincham accessory.
The old member’s club has been stripped back to the brickwork and up to the rafters, rather brutally judging by the harsh acoustics. As part of a fit out you could hardly call imaginative, the whole thing has been whitewashed and laid out with municipal tables around a (very orderly looking) open kitchen and a central feature bar.
The menu is compact, mostly brasserie staples, but I’d lured my family here with the promise of sushi and sashimi. “No sushi today,” said our server, “the sushi chef is off.” So, with at least fourteen dishes depending entirely on the presence of one single chef, there were no advertised oysters, sashimi, nigiri, uramaki or ceviche. My daughter was trying to hide the fact that she was upset, but her bottom lip was going.
We chose a couple of appetisers whilst trying to recover the situation. Shards of Pork Crackling (£1) were too salty, as in industrial winter road-clearing levels of salt. Serano (sic) ham (£4) which we’d watched being lovingly pushed through an automatic Berkel meat slicing machine before being brought over, was covered in olive oil. Good, extra virgin olive oil, but the kind with such a dominant grassy flavour, no matter how superior the ham was, it was totally overpowered. We’d ordered a larger starter portion too (£8) and ended up blotting each slice on paper napkins.
Denied her sushi, my daughter ordered chargrilled squid, coriander, chilli, lime, sweet and sour crunchy vegetables and crispy onion (£7) which she was underwhelmed by. Unfortunately, it was whisked away when I popped off to the loo, so I never got to agree or disagree. My goat’s cheese mousse, beetroot four ways (pickled/crisp/gel/jelly) and walnut (£6), suggested some technical skill (the beetroot chef had turned up that day). Served in a Martini glass, it had a fridge-cold wodge of cheese which kept sliding, as a whole, on top of a pink vegetable coulis. On this were tiny cubes of various types of pickled beetroot, a single crispy shard of toasted bread and beetroot crisps. So that’s one piece of bread to approximately 100g of rich, creamy and pretty solid goat’s cheese. It felt so unbalanced, there can be no way this dish had actually been tried by the chefs before they put it on the menu. Fortunately we’d ordered an appetiser of bread and oil (£3.)
Things improved for the mains. Although the skin on the seared Goosnargh duck breast (£18) was under salted (they must have run out after the crackling) the breast was cooked perfectly pink and the comforting, hearty pulled duck and puy lentil cassoulet was something I’d have been proud to have made. Beer battered cod (£12) was a decent sized portion, hand cut chips really were hand cut, ‘Manchester caviar’ was simply mushy peas and tartare sauce appeared home made. However, I’m not convinced it’s any better than the ones being served a few doors away at Altrincham Fish Bar.
The kids menu (£5.50) was simple and well thought out. The steak in the steak and chips (+£1 supplement) was cooked rare as requested – I know, sometimes it’s like having a dog rather than a child.
The dessert menu looked promising. I thought it might be a good idea to get one we could all pick at - profiteroles to share, chocolate brownie bites, salted caramel ice cream, toffee sauce and toasted marshmallows (£10). It wasn’t. The marshmallows had been toasted on the plate after assembly, rather than separately, by someone in a rush running around with a blowtorch. Unfortunately, that meant everything had been affected by a carbonised taint, rendering all but the ice cream, the toffee sauce and the marshmallows (ironically) virtually inedible.
I’m not sure how busy Vanderhook’s other establishments are, but things at The Con Club were a little disorganised. Some things like the growing queue at the door while the front of house team got to grips with the technologies of the operating system can be overlooked, but other things cannot; loos with no paper, empty soap dispensers and missing roast potatoes on a neighbouring table’s Sunday lunch, for example. When we arrived, the lady at the front desk led us to our table and then asked if she could take our drinks order, abandoning the queue entirely, rather than passing on the baton. In conclusion, more cohesive training is needed to cope with busy periods (ie. when the market is open), staff must taste the dishes and they either need to hire another couple of sushi chefs or take it off the menu.
The Con Club, 48 Greenwood Street, Altrincham, WA14 1RZ
Food: 6/10 (crackling 5, Serano ham 6, bread & oil 6, squid 6, goat’s beetroot 5, duck 8, fish & chips 7, kids steak 7, dessert platter 6)
PLEASE NOTE: 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: only if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God's own personal chef