Gordo visits the new bistro down on Didsbury corner
On the bend of the road before you arrive in Didsbury village, close to Fletcher Moss Park where this writer lives, are two pubs and a restaurant. The first time I was aware of the restaurant was when it became the Steak and Kebab thirty years ago. And a great success it was for at least a decade.
Years later, sitting out front drinking a gin and tonic, I was waiting for my grandson Harry. As usual he was being chauffeured by his brilliant and beautiful girlfriend Livi. Harry can’t be arsed passing his test. I mean, who wouldn’t have a movie star drive you about in a smart new mini convertible, the lazy little shit?
I think these guys can deliver on a par with Gaucho and Hawksmoor
The restaurant is now called 4 of Us. An odd name in these days of search engine optimisation; however, it’s been very smartly refurbished, stripped out and put back together again, with a friendly ‘local bistro-cum steak house’ vibe, which is just what the area needs. There’s a lot of scruffy mediocrity about.
Magdalena Lis, one of the four owners, is the front of house gaffer. Her staff are sharp and well trained. It turns out that the four are professionals, two couples who decided that the next step for them was owning their own place. Previously Magda was Senior Assistant General Manager at Gaucho whilst her husband, in the kitchen, is a former Hawksmoor Head Chef. The perfect CV for a team cooking a big section of the menu over charcoal.
This official review was my second visit, the first when I walked up the road from my place to have Sunday lunch on my own a couple of weeks previously. I was impressed.
Magda had recognised me and wouldn’t let me pay. So, I can’t score that. I had to go back anyway to score the evening full menu. Which is troublesome for me. It’s huge, and not focused. There are fourteen ‘small plates’. It’s a bit like the partnership couldn’t agree, so threw everything in the mix. It’s full of Eastern European influences, which kicks in oddities. With over forty dishes to prepare it can be tricky to keep the quality up.
The olives (£4) were impressively dressed in a warm and tingly house marinade, whilst a trio of anchovy crackers (£5), anchovy butter, nice salty whole fillets across the top and small rings of pickled onions straddling the little beasts made for umami heaven.
I ordered the grilled bone marrow with parsley and red onion salad (£8.50). It was superb. It was a mistake though, it’s listed on the ‘small plates’ but I should have had it as a side to my steak (more later) and smothered it with the bone marrow. Now that would have been a proper day out.
I didn’t like my baked mackerel smothered in a spiced tomato sauce with caper berries, horseradish and sourdough (£11.50). The tomato sauce had that tart, acidic taste which needed cooking out further, and maybe a sprinkle of sugar as seasoning would have then helped. But warm smoked mackerel? Not to my taste. The sourdough was a big thick doorstop of a very soft variety. Far too blousy.
Livi’s steak tartare, dressed with a little bois boudran, a bordelaise-type sauce, crispy potato and a smoked egg purée was gutsy, and the crispy fried shredded potato was a clever addition of texture. That doorstep of toasted sourdough was there again. Same problem.
Harry had the ‘half fried chicken’, (£22) with a house rub and green slaw. It arrived deep fried, crispy coated. Every fried chicken shack in the country need to get nervous if these guys ever go on the high street. It was fabulous. Crunchy, moist inside, spicy. Everything you want in fried chicken.
The pan roasted Fillet of Cod in a Beurre Nantais sauce (£26) showed classic training coming to light from the kitchen, as well as a deft hand at getting timings spot on. Really good dish this for fish lovers.
There are several cuts of meat available, with, for example, a ribeye at 350grm (£35) which I ordered. You can take the cuts as ‘butchers cuts’, that is order by the 100 grams. These all include a cut called ‘Deckle’, not seen in the UK very often. It’s the muscle that surrounds the rib eye, it’s well marbled and a beautifully tender piece. There’s not much of it on a beast and can be quite expensive. It’s £45 for 400g. Overcooked, it turns tough quickly.
My ribeye was simply superb in every respect. The guys know how to use that grill, understand seasoning and how to deliver medium rare. This is beef at its very best. An ash baked potato (£4.50) should be mentioned in dispatches, crunchy, salty skin, one of those nearly sweet varieties. Salt and Vinegar Fries (£4.50) needed more vinegar but were great for dipping in my properly made Diane sauce (£4).
Pastry work is a bit out of step. I left the Panna cotta (£9 but taken off the bill) alone after one mouthful. It wasn’t Panna cotta as we know it, Jim. It is vegan, but that’s no excuse for being unpleasant. But, God Bless Magda, when I told her, she went in the kitchen for five minutes, came back and simply said, “You’re right. We’ve all tasted it and it’s off the menu from this point”. I’m not including that in the scoring.
Tarte Tatin (£10.50) was served with caramel sauce and ice cream. The apples were beautifully sweet and silky, I loved the caramel sauce. The puff pastry however had gone soggy, but had a good flavour. Get the pastry right and it’s a banger.
The wine needs another article. It’s big on value and from interesting regions from Poland to Bulgaria and Romania. Take the time out to try the flights, they are well chosen and these guys love you for trying them out. Don’t be afraid to ask.
I think that these guys have a position where they can serve the southern suburbs all the way through to Wilmslow and Alderley Edge, where there is a dearth of great steak houses; they can deliver on a par with Gaucho and Hawksmoor. Everyone will travel for excellent steak.
They should re-think their small plates, cut to a starter/main/pudding and whilst catering to the veggie market to some extent, remember the main game is that charcoal grill. It can do non-meat as well.
I want these guys to succeed. I’m being a bit brutal here, but that’s because I love small indies who put their all into the game. Dear reader, go. You will enjoy it, and I look forward to the four of them getting better and better as they calm down.
Editors note - Those eagle-eyed readers noticing no photos of the cod, ribeye and potato should know Gordo was too busy getting pissed with his grandson to pause and take photos.
4 of Us, 846 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, M20 2RN
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS 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.
If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request.
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.
Anchovy crackers 7, Olives 7, Steak tartare 6.75, Baked mackerel 5, Bone Marrow 8, Cod 8, Chicken 8, Ribeye 8.5, Diane Sauce 7, Ash Baked Potato 7, Tarte Tatin 6.5