'The lesson they learned was to concentrate on maintaining one successful branch. They have kept it simple and the formula works...'

THE RECENT announcement regarding the closure of Grenache in Walkden got me thinking. I had been to catering school with owner Mike Jennings, so I thought it might be time to catch up with some more alumni of South Trafford College. Another aspiring chef who we learnt to shuck oysters and debone poultry alongside was Paul Taylor, who went on to become chef/co-owner of The Fat Loaf in Ashton Village just behind Sale.

Seeing as it opened back in 2004, I had a search in the ManCon archives to see if and when it had last been reviewed. Nothing came up, just a few other modern British restaurant reviews written by Gordo. “Are you sure you didn’t mistype The Fat Oaf?” asked editor David Blake.

I tend to favour writing reviews on neighbourhood restaurants to make sure we keep an eye on what’s happening in the suburbs rather than just the city centre. At first I was ashamed that I hadn’t visited the The Fat Loaf before, now I’m actually sorry.

We were surprised to see how busy it was for a Monday evening, but that’s the day they offer a BYO arrangement with no corkage charge. With a Bargain Booze only next door, and a set dinner menu on offer with three courses for £17.50, this works a treat.

.The Fat Loaf

Expect classic starters such as breaded whitebait and chicken liver pate alongside a Vietnamese style salad or braised pig’s cheeks with chilli, ginger, mandarins, shallots & crispy cabbage (£5.50), which is what we went for. This was the only dish that merited a lower score than the others. The porcine jowls could have done with a stricter trim to get rid of some residual gristle and sinew. The cheeks had been long-simmered until tender but the sauce would have benefitted from a bit more attention to make it as deep, ginger and glossy as a hair dye commercial. Because they’re worth it.

Our other starter of grilled scallops with sautéed cauliflower, bacon, sultana and almond butter (£6.50, main image) was not a beauty, but had hidden depths which made us fall deeply for it. The cauliflower wasn’t in the expected form of a puree (I can’t wait until this fad for turning vegetables into smears of baby food passes), but had been crumbled almost like couscous. With added sweetness from sultanas, saltiness from the bacon, toasted nuttiness from the slivers of almonds and not a little melted butter, the scallops were piled on top of a delicious four dimensional heap of flavour.

PigPig's cheeks

For mains, I ordered a skate wing (£14.40), something seldom seen on menus. This satisfyingly fleshy one had been browned perfectly in anchovy butter and was served alongside a simple bowl of sautéed new potatoes, spinach and garlic confit. The quality resulted in miles more value for money than about a dozen more obvious fish dishes I’ve eaten recently – mostly seabass.

The second main course wasn’t an easy decision among temptations such as roast lamb rump with turnip and potato gratin, buttered greens, shallot & Madeira sauce (£16.75) or what I reckon would be an excellent cheese and onion pie with buttered greens (£11.50), but Goosnargh duck breast with charred broccoli and hazelnuts, baked celeriac and port sauce (£15.75) did not let us down.

I’ve never had duck presented in chopped up cubes before, but one look revealed it was perfectly cooked and the portion was so generous you’d expect it to actually be more than one duck breast if you tried to jigsaw it all back together again. Baking the celeriac brought out its best characteristics and the rich shiny sauce was everything that the pig cheek sauce wasn’t. So they can do it.

Skate wingFleshy skate wing
DuckCubed Duck

They offer a tasting plate of desserts for people like me who try to avoid having to choose. The question of ‘red or white?’ often elicits the answer ‘both’ and instead of having to choose between tea and coffee, I just have toffee.

In one sweep we were able to sample a cube of sticky toffee pudding, a miniature strawberry pot-o-panna cotta and a creamy scoop of white chocolate cheesecake. In case of the remote possibility of being struck by lightning if we were to leave one out, we also ordered a vanilla rice pudding with rhubarb compote. Nutmeg bullied the vanilla a little and the rice was al dente (which is the polite way of saying underdone). Cooking the rhubarb down so much had removed its more redeeming characteristics of colour and texture, but between us we didn’t leave much for the potwash to deal with.

.Pud tasting plate

Over the past thirteen years, The Fat Loaf has unsuccessfully tried to expand with branches in other suburbs such as Altrincham and Didsbury. The lesson they learned was to concentrate on maintaining one successful branch. They have kept it simple and the formula works by creating a classic British neighbourhood bistro menu, together with using good local suppliers (name-checked on the menu) and uncomplicated cooking techniques for reasonable prices.

Go to the top of the class Mr Taylor.

The Fat Loaf, 62 Green Lane, Ashton-on-Mersey, Sale, Cheshire. M33 5PG. Tel: 0161 972 0397.

Rating: 15/20

Food: 7 (Pig Cheeks 6, Scallops 8, Skate Wing 7, Duck 8, Rice Pudding 5, Tasting desserts 6)

Atmosphere: 4/5 open kitchen, friendly neighbours

Service: 4/5 smooth and friendly, even the chefs bring out some dishes

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, 6-10 stay in with Netflix, 11-13 if you're passing, 14-16 very good, 17-18 excellent, 19-20 pure quality.



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