Kelly Bishop investigates a restaurant luring everyone to Stretford
When you stay in a fancy hotel in places like Rio De Janeiro or Mumbai, there is the distasteful option to go on a slum tour. To gawp at the section of society that isn’t afforded the same privileges of the cosseted western traveller or the wealthy city-dwelling locals. I’ve never felt compelled, I imagine them as a vulgar Disneyland of poverty porn. The argument goes it gives tourists a chance to see the “real” country and reflect wistfully on their own good fortune.
It's got a Betty from Corrie charm
My dining partner distastefully jokes while walking from our taxi down the side of Stretford Mall (Stretford Arndale if you’re old enough) and into the charming Stretford Canteen, that a visit here might serve as a slum tour of sorts for posh Chorltonites. A day out to a less fancy bit of South Manchester. I know, it's a naughty comparison to make. Stretford is no Gorton (sorry Gorton) but this new restaurant does seem to be luring all the posh folks out for an evening’s sojourn away from their leafy half a mil home suburbias. Why? Well, we’ll see.
Chatting to the folks on the next table, it turns out locals are out in force tonight too. This young couple is buzzing to have a restaurant of this ilk on their doorstep. They reckon there isn’t anywhere like it for a date night in Stretford. I’d go as far as to say there isn’t anywhere quite like it in Chorlton either. Sale, maybe.
The place is tiny. We manage to book at the last minute on a Friday and are squeezed onto a small table where I need to sit with my back very close to the door. I expect to find that annoying but I barely notice it once I’m settled in with a view of the twinkly-lit dining room. It’s comfortable, unpretentious, warm and welcoming and reminds me of the tiny unassuming kind of French and Italian bistros you find in London. The definition of a neighbourhood restaurant.
The staff seem ever so slightly unsure of themselves, but they’ve no need to be, they’re suitably charming. The wine list is mostly French and covers everything from a house CDR to St Emilion. There’s even an orange. With a bit of advice, we go for a Cahors (£29), the French Malbec they call black wine for its inky intenseness. It’s smooth and richly fruity, working well with the beef shin a la bordelaise (£14) we order as a “main”.
The beef arrives in an earthenware dish with a sidecar of red cabbage on a plate with a paper doily on it. My other half calls it a hot pot without the lid. He’s got the meat wrong but I see what he means, it's got a Betty from Corrie charm. Its flavour matches the intense colour of the wine, deep and rich from slow cooking. We could have done with some carbs to mop that sauce up though. Perhaps the staff could have suggested a side of bread or spuds to go with the kale and carrots (£4) we've picked but it’s to their credit that they aren’t pushy with the extras.
At the last minute, we swerve a special-sounding fish dish with seafood bisque for a more homely cassoulet (£12) of sorts. We're getting our culinary winter pelts on. This sausage and bean dish is nothing short of sensational. Fennelly butchers sausages snuggle into melting cannellini beans made lightly creamy with creme fraiche. A vibrant top note comes from a “green sauce” as they say in Stretford (somewhere between the Italian “salsa verde” or French "pistou" to the Chorltonites). I love its minty, caper sharp tang against the mildness of the beans. All it needs is a slice of squishy Warbies toastie. This is the dish I’d urge you not to miss if it’s on the menu when you visit. Like any good small seasonal restaurant, the menu changes all the time and that gives you and me plenty of excuses to go back.
Stretford Canteen is falling in line with the enduring small plates trend but I’m not massively convinced it makes sense here. The suggestion is just to get a couple of small and a couple of big plates between two rather than five or six of all the same size. That’s kinda like ordering starters and mains and sharing them innit? Pick a team, Stretford Canteen.
Our “starters” are good. A tangle of wild mushrooms draped over a hunk of refreshingly unpretty potato pave (a little spenny at £10) is as garlicky as the neckline on a Breton shirt. A fishy fan of boquerones (£4) is as good as those in any of my favourite townie hotspots.
I can’t resist a blackboard special dessert of apple financier (£5) named for its bar of gold shape. Mine, rather suitably for me, is shaped more like a small pile of coins. Drizzled with a homemade creme Anglaise (ok, custard) and snowdrifted with crisp flaked almonds and icing sugar. It’s just enough sweet stuff for me and gives the same "favourite grandma's house for dinner" vibes as the beef dish.
Our cheeseboard (£12) wouldn’t feel out of place at 10 Tib Lane or Elnecot. Stretford Canteen says non merci to French cheese, choosing English bangers instead: Baron Bigod, a farmyardy Lancashire and a creamy, smoky Colston Basset Stilton with sourdough crisps and cinnamon-spiked chutney. I prefer a water biscuit but maybe that’s just me.
There are nowhere near enough French restaurants in Manchester and Stretford Canteen is flying the flag honourably, albeit with a few capitulations to British cuisine. I’m a fan of French wine, food and style, I think Stretford Canteen has created a really charming iteration of it.
“France is just a shit Spain,” argues my uncouth dining partner as he nonetheless happily stuffs his face, "It’s not as hot, the people are not as hot, and it’s getting a bit right-wing, innit?”
Is Stretford a shit Chorlton? I’ll leave you to argue over that one. For a townie like me, it makes for a very refreshing change to come here for tea on a Friday before sinking a few pints afterwards in Head bar up the road. The latter’s vinyl DJ goes from reggae to rave over the 90 mins we spend there and it’s buzzing on a Friday with proper Manc vibes. I've been again to Stretford recently and had a lovely time on both occasions. I hope to see it flourish more.
Stretford Canteen has spread its wings after more than five years as an itinerant pop up and I, the local residents and approximately half of Chorlton are very happy to have it. It's definitely a worthy treat for date night.
Stretford Canteen, 118 Chester Rd, Stretford, Manchester M32 9BH
Slightly edited on 25 Oct after the writer reflected on her choice of words.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
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.
mushrooms 7.5, boquerones 7, beef 7, sausage 9, financier 8, cheese 7
Suitably charming, if a little coy
Gorgeous teeny bistro vibes