Kelly Bishop has an offally good time at this pub in Ancoats
Offal must have a particularly hard time making friends these days. But when it comes to the value of an animal’s life, there’s an argument that by not eating ‘everything but the squeak’ you're doing the beast a serious disservice. While I’m sympathetic to the vegan idealism, the philosopher in me is always looking for balance. If we are going to eat meat (assuming we are afforded the privilege of choice), it should be much less in quantity than current appetites demand, much higher welfare and every last bit should be used up.
If this scares you, I hope you never eat supermarket sausages
I imagine Kiwi chef Julian Pfizer at The Edinburgh Castle - and formerly Cottonopolis - would agree. There are dishes on his menus I haven’t seen anywhere in the city centre for some time and they’re offally good. This lovingly restored 200 year old pub in Ancoats offers two quite different food propositions upstairs and downstairs so I dutifully visit twice.
Early on a Tuesday evening, the pub is buzzing like a Dickensian parlour. The crowded back room glows with the flickering flames of skinny, ivory-coloured church candles on every table. Despite being in indecently close proximity to other ruddy cheeked revellers, the atmosphere is exactly what I want from a pub.
Lettuce cups (£5) with a glass of Ciaca Bianca Fiano (£7) make a great combo. Little gem leaves are packed with bacon, anchovy, chicken skin and cured egg yolk with a delicate snowdrift of Parmesan. They’re a fancy version of those low-carb Super Bowl snacks you might find on an American food blog.
Parmesan doughnuts (£5) - well, churros - arrive piping hot in a cast iron dish with whipped goats cheese and a drizzle of honey. Truffle oil provides a sassy hip shake of umami. I declare henceforth to never go here for a drink without ordering these.
Hayley serves us and is knowledgable and funny (“the other night, after three pints of that, I went home and ate loads of roast potatoes”) without trying to be your mate - although I wish she was.
Cauliflower cheese croquettes are a touch pricey at £8. Crispy panko gives way to a filling that oozes with the optimum cheesy-sauce-to-cauli ratio. A daisy of Scotch eggs (£9) in a trio of porcine flavours (smoked ham, nduja and black pud) display soft quail's egg yolks. Perfect posh pub nibbles.
That’s more than enough deep fried, crispy coated stuff for me but my other half rarely misses an opportunity to order fish ’n chips (£14). The flaky cod is spot on, as is the salt cod croquette sidekick, but the chips are magnificent - cooked to an unfathomably bubbly-crisp outer, fluffy inside and coated with chip shop curry flavoured salt. I’m a bit dubious about ‘crushed marrowfats’ that look and taste like regular peas to me - with none of that waxy pulse-iness - but he's not complaining.
I used to adore the food at the dank smelling and now sadly departed Mark Addy. Wild rabbit faggots (£12) remind me of chef Rob Owen Brown’s traditional/modern approach there. Yes it’s an unfortunate name but they’re basically meatballs. There’s heaps of flavour thanks to dark meat and offal, minced then wrapped in a pretty casing of lacy caul - the membrane that protects the internal organs of animals. If this scares you, I hope you never eat supermarket sausages. A sloe and blackberry dripping toastie, iron-rich greens and a drizzle of sweetly intense gravy make this dish an absolute delight.
On the Friday night around the same time we squeeze through the even busier pub to the staircase at the back, emerging into a larger than expected but completely empty dining room. Staff are fine-dining-grade attentive but - though it does fill up later - our lovely and enthusiastic waitress is at our table so frequently we almost pull up an extra chair. Once we mention that we’d rather pour our own wine (a funky, biodynamic Bill Downie Petit Verdot £39) and water, our conversation flows more easily.
First come snacks and bread on the house. I think there’s a law prohibiting bad sourdough in Ancoats and the yeast police won’t be knocking on here. Accompanying butter with that typical Werther’s Original-esque roundness of flavour sits atop some verdant herby dust. We are impressed by a carrot; an optical illusion that appears as a solid baton but gives way to many wafer thin layers. A choux puff filled with beetroot and walnut is a bit Ferrero Rocher and doesn’t really do it for me, despite my love for that garnet root.
Jerusalem artichoke (£11) is another optical illusion: a fried egg turns out to be a cured yolk atop a pool of off-white artichoke puree. More puree is piped into crisp boats of choke skin. The unique flavour warbles but we have to ask for more bread to mop it up. An entire pickled ox tongue (£12) seems enough for a nostalgic lunch with a couple of rounds of warbies. We are intimidated, at first, by its bulk and flagrant tonguieness. I anticipate a crunchy texture like pigs ear, but it melts under my fork, a darkest-pink tangle of succulent shreds. It’s topped with the chunkiest sauce gribiche I’ve ever seen but a finer dice would have been too namby-pamby for this great hunk of muscle. It goes straight into my dishes of the year.
I can tell my friend is enjoying her beeswax aged beef (£30) because she is uncharacteristically silent. The plating is cluttered but the meat is fantastic. Fragrant, slow cooked oxtail hides inside a shallot skin. Both mains are given a final pour of broth at the table, a lighter touch than expected, and I do think fondly of that rabbit gravy from the pub downstairs.
I can’t complain about my autumn-coloured plate of plump steamed mussels, smoked pork jowl, burnt apple, kombu and butternut (£26) but, like many a Tinder date, it isn’t quite as exciting in person as it was on paper. I love the surprise Chinese style pork bao bun though. More exciting is the glistening, hasselback potato (£5) on a puddle of ash-speckled buttermilk. We like the enthusiast’s miscellany of macerated mushies (£6) too.
Puddings are presented to us by head chef Julian Pfizer who talks nostalgically about his childhood in NZ eating tongue sandwiches in a remarkably similar fashion to my mate who grew up in Moston. He’s passionate and obviously brimming with culinary ideas but the desserts are a tad disappointing.
A blue cheese doughnut (£8) with gorgeous turmeric coloured filling is heartbreakingly overcooked and tough as old boots - not a patch on those churros downstairs. Goats cheese semi-freddo is fabulous and a perfectly savoury foil for sweet pavlova but it takes significant exertion to crack into the rock hard meringue to find the tart blackberry treasures inside. A honeycombed sugar topper looks cool but sticks in our molars.
Downstairs the food in The Edinburgh Castle is astonishingly good and I can’t think of anywhere in the city doing traditional pub grub like it. Yet again, the Ancoats lot are showing the rest of the city how it’s done. Upstairs - at twice the price - the menu is very ambitious and the passion and creativity of the kitchen is palpable. A few tweaks and no doubt it will be a serious player, but for now it’s the pub menu that I’m heading back to complete ASAP.
The Edinburgh Castle, Blossom St, Manchester, M4 5AN
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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: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Lettuce cups 7, parmesan doughnuts 10, cauliflower cheese croquettes 8, Scotch eggs 7.5, wild rabbit faggots 8.5, fish n chips 8, tongue 10, artichoke 7, beef 8, pork 7, hasselback potato 9.5, mushrooms 7, meringue 6.5, blue cheese doughnut 5
Bang on in the pub, upstairs still finding its feet
Both the pub and restaurant have been lovingly fitted out. The pub wins for its Dickensian parlour bon viveur but give the restaurant time