The celebrity chef takes us on a tour of his new restaurant, and shares details of his Sunday lunch club
I’ve been slightly stalking the new Greens in Sale over the last few of weeks. From peeking through the glass frontage to the A-board that advertises “Palomas, prosecco and pints”, to the videos posted on their Instagram of co-owner Simon Rimmer (of Sunday Brunch fame) putting his telly skills to good use, whetting imaginations with mini-tours of the site in its build phase.
So I'm thrilled when I get the call from my editor that Simon is on hand and willing to give me an introduction to the latest addition to Sale's fast-growing food and drink scene.
I'm loving what we do and I love what we are sending out.
Greens is of course a Manchester institution – a leader in vegetarian cuisine for the last 30 or so years, since Simons Rimmer and Connolly (the other owner of Greens) took a punt on a small veggie cafe on Lapwing Lane. Its tongue-in-cheek strapline is “terrifying carnivores since 1990”.
Actually, the opposite is true. A meat-eating colleague has already been to the new Sale outpost three times since it opened (apparently it’s a great place for dates). Similarly, my dad - a man with a lifelong commitment to pork pies - is a big fan of the Didsbury original. The carnivores are well on board.
Speaking of family, when I arrive at the new Greens outpost for the tour, Simon is just saying goodbye to his mum and dad, who’ve been having lunch. I imagine Simon is permanently upbeat, but he seems extra bouncy after showing off his new spot to his folks.
“It’s been quite emotional really. We’ve had Green’s in Didsbury for 32 years, and then suddenly I decided 18 months ago that it was time to do another one. We felt like we had all the ducks in a row, with the rise and rise of veggie and vegan food. We've been doing it very well for 32 years. We thought it was the right time,” says Simon.
“We started looking for sites and heard about this development and the fact that the that the developers were curating it, rather than just saying, okay, here you go, here's a load of units. If you do something like this and then you find you’re next to Chunky Fried Chicken, it’s not ideal really.
“When we opened Greens in Didsbury, it felt like we very quickly became part of the neighbourhood. And that was really important. And I think that that was one of the big draws with Sale, that we felt we can be part of the neighbourhood straight away.
“The feedback from Sale residents has been phenomenal." One resident in particular is impressed. "My sister has lived in Sale for the last 28 years and she can walk up for lunch."
Part of the drive to become Sale's go-to neighbourhood restaurant is to launch a Sunday lunch menu that is more of a lazy Sunday afternoon club, where you can linger over pudding and a glass of wine.
"It's a nice thing to do," says Simon. "Plus we start live music from Sunday. We're going to have various people but the first band is a Portuguese salsa band, Baby Baiana, very sort of Astrid Gilberto just very chilled. We're going to rotate and find bands locally.
"We're a proper bar as well, not just a restaurant, the bar trade has been great here. Whereas at Greens in Didsbury, you can't just go in for a drink." To get more known in the area as a bar, Greens have launched their own version of a happy hour, Greens Social, on Mondays to Thursdays, where all beers are £5 and a bottle of house wine is £15 (temptingly, the Sangria sharer will also be £15) during certain hours.
I ask Simon if he feels like the rush of new openings in the area has fostered a sense of competition. He thinks the opposite is true. "The hospitality trade works on conglomeration. If I could pick ideal neighbours, like the Sugo boys who used to work for us, they're here. Blanchflower, Oystercatcher opening up. Petisco who've opened next door - they are just lovely people.
"As well as it's been a good community feel for customers, it feels like that from a trade point of view, everyone is really excited by each other opening. So we're far better off having loads of good people around us than being on our own."
Stanley Square and the transformation of Sale
For those of you not familiar with the Stanley Square development, owners Altered Space have taken a brutalist 60s shopping centre and reimagined it as a food and drink lovers paradise. I do wonder though, if there has been any issues transforming these rather boxy retail units into restaurants with their own personalities.
"I think the biggest issue I had initially was that where the kitchen is now, was an old bank vault. So we had to smash the bank vault down. We were fortunate that the vault was actually an add-on rather than part of the intrinsic part of the building. I've had sites before with bank vaults, and to dismantle them from the inside out is laborious and incredibly costly. Here we just had to smash the whole back wall down."
Modern interiors for Greens #2
The Simons, along with designer Mark Mason, have kept some of the industrial feeling of the site and added layers of softness, from upholstery in shades of pistachio, raspberry and faded denim, to acres of plants hoisted aloft in metal contraptions affectionately referred to as boats.
Simon cites The Butcher’s Daughter, an American plant-based restaurant, as an inspiration. His favourite outpost is in Venice Beach, and, amazingly enough, there are touches of that light-filled, easy-breezy California lifestyle right here in (not always) Sunny Sale.
"I think that you look for beauty in whatever you get I mean, look at the ceiling - it's amazing. That was covered by ugly white tiles."
The ceiling in question has a raw, earthy patina and Simon jokes, "My mum and dad have just been in and you can see them desperate to ask 'when you're going to finish it?' I love the fact that we've got incredible beauty in here. And then we've left stuff to its own devices too."
The space is dominated by a mural by French street artist Nerone, known for his vibrant, colour-saturated flowers. Simon says, “I discovered him because he was doing a community arts project where he painted the side of a load of old terraced houses where my parents live on Merseyside. A friend of mine was working on the PR for the whole campaign, I said I was looking for an artist and he said you’ll love it. So he [Nerone] came over from Paris, and I do love it.”
Something else Simon is proud of is continuing the sustainable ethos from the original Greens: “We tried to do without wanting to preach about it. So for example, We don't sell bottled water. We use filtered still and sparkling water from Belu, all of their profits go to water charities.
“We've got no fossil fuels - the kitchen is all induction. Even the paint on the artwork is biodegradable. We have many things that have been recycled around the place. So a lot of the wood we used is recycled, all of the fabrics on all banquettes are recycled.
“The problem is when you say things that it sounds like you are virtue signalling, but we're a vegetarian restaurant so that's always been our ethos."
What's on the menu at Greens?
Of course, a restaurant tour isn't a restaurant tour without talking about the star of the show - the food.
The menu is Greens but reimagined in a freer, more casual mode. While the Didsbury venue follows the grown-up starter-main-pudding structure, Sale goes for the build-your-own heuristic; mainly small plates with a few large plates designed for sharing.
Inspirations are global. Chinese, Korean, Indian, French, Italian and Greek influences all poke their heads above the parapet. Simon describes this approach to the world of flavour as “magpie cuisine” and in an omnivorous restaurant, it might get a bit overwhelming but here it works.
It’s a weird fact about humans that a bit of restriction unleashes a great deal of creativity. Confining the basic palette of the menu to one food group means that the kitchen can go wild on the flavour details without it turning into an overpowering jumble.
“We're happy to steal from whatever part of the world excites us really. I think good small plate or tapas restaurants, whatever you want to call them, to do it well you've got to have light and shade. So big, strong flavours but also some light," says Simon.
But what are those flavours? Gorgeous earthy-sour black lime tofu with toasty cumin for shade dappled against charred peaches full of sunshine, served with a soft, creamy goat’s cheese. Tempura cauliflower bites are soaked in a marinade made from oh-so-fashionable gochujang. Simon indicates the sweet, sticky, moreish liquid pooling in the bottom of the bowl, “I could just drink it, it’s so good.” I’m tempted to do just that.
Puddings carry similar influences – the rosewater-soaked strawberries draped over pistachio polenta cake are indebted to Persian cuisine, while Japanese miso brings an umami smack to caramelised bananas in a sticky toffee pudding.
The tour ends with a peek at the roof terrace. If Simon was enthusiastic before he is positively Tigger-ish at the sight of builders hard at work securing the roof and constructing a bar. Today the skies are blue but it should be comfortable in less clement weather too, protected from rain by a pavilion above.
So for the next few weeks, Simon's focus is here in Sale. "I'm always in restaurants but being back on the tools and running service on a regular basis kills me. I do it as a luxury item. I'm the person that is an extra member of the team.
"But also I'm loving it. I'm loving what we do and I love what we are sending out. Having an open kitchen is great, you can really gauge what's going on."
I wonder if this means the pitter patter of more Greens restaurants on the horizon? Like most parents asked that frankly annoying question, he is keen but wary. "The plan is - if the time is right. If this goes as well as it has started, we want to do one, two, even three more. Again, depending on site, depending on opportunity, depending on time."
Vegetarians and carnivores alike, watch this space.
Greens, Unit 14-16 Stanley Square, Sale, M33 7WZ. Sunday lunch club starts from 12pm with live music from 4pm, 31 July and every Sunday after. Greens Social starts from August 1 and will operate Monday 5pm-6pm and Tuesday-Thursday 3pm-6pm.
Follow Lucy on Twitter: @hotcupoftea
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