Richard Miller finds a page-turner at this Cutting Room Square classic
Neighbourhood restaurant. Two words I’ve seen bunged together a thousand times without considering what the term really means. But this visit to The Jane Eyre got me thinking.
The service is smart and cheery, and the menu, joy of joys, prioritises enjoyment over endurance
Like the food, the welcome at a neighbourhood restaurant should be warm and genuine. Here, a pint of the house pilsner (£5) landed in my hand within two and a half minutes of arse hitting seat. This is my kind of greeting. For those into the dark arts of mixology there’s a healthy cocktail list with which to acquaint yourself, but after the schlep up Shudehill on a scorching day a cold beer was always going to get the nod.
There will be the background clanks and clangs of a small kitchen, possibly of the open variety. Rather than a shouty brigade, it’s more likely to be staffed by a nimble-limbed double act of quietly focussed chefs. Those chefs will occasionally catch your eye, clocking your reaction as you knock back their small plate offerings.
At The Jane Eyre these included mega hunks of tart, stretchy bread (£4.50), dark of crust and bouncy of crumb. Yes, I would have preferred that huge wodge to have been broken down into a couple of svelte slices, but that’s just me wanting to prolong the plateful. A neat quenelle of yuzu butter, practically fizzing with citrus brightness, was top drawer.
There should be something deep-fried and down-in-one-able to go with that beer. Here, Olde England met Espana through three burly ham hock croquettes (£5), the perfect hue of fish finger orange. They were a little light on the advertised Manchego, but the strands of tightly packed pig were slick and rich, the shell invitingly brittle, while a pea and mint dip made for a fresher alternative to the usual pot of aioli.
Nothing wrong with the cooking, but a dish of braised chicken (£8.50) – a singular crisp-skinned thigh – felt a little ploddy and autumnal given the balmy conditions of the day. Can’t blame the kitchen for the weather, mind. Push this under my nose on an overcast October afternoon and, with its hummy butter beans, nibs of carrot and toothy chorizo, I’ll scarf it by the bucket.
From Iberia we pootled to Provence for a more weather-appropriate pile of fat and fleshy heritage tomatoes (£8) furnished simply with good green oil, torn basil and a heap of thick ricotta. Oh, but for those amalgamated juices pooling at the bottom of the bowl. What a happy jaunt that was.
And a superlative crab salad (£9) double-underlined the summery vibe. Its tendrils of delicate meat spliced with chilli and capers and laden with curls of invigorating fennel had me searching for beach breaks in Benidorm.
Indeed, the festive atmosphere spilled out onto the square outside, where sun-baked swiggers were being serenaded by a bloke who managed to make that Toploader tune sound even more turgid than usual. Fair play.
Our pan-Mediterranean meander continued, now to Greece, with a crisp disk of fried goats cheese beneath an exuberant drenching of honey (£6). The age-old combination works best if there’s just enough sweet nectar to balance out the salty cheese, but here the scales tipped too heavily towards the former.
Tasty gear, but I’d be tempted to level down the honey or shunt the dish across the menu to be filed under ‘afters’.
Speaking of which, a dense slab of chocolate biscuit cake (£5) made for a classic bit of mum-baking. Which is apt, given that it’s from a recipe handed down from Madre Jane to the Eyre brothers who own the place. Yes, that’s from where the name originates, not the gothic novel like we’d all presumed.
The Jane Eyre’s hard-faced brick and glass exterior belies a more convivial fit-out within. Its high ceilings allow for an appealing buzz of ambient din, the service is smart and cheery, and the menu, joy of joys, prioritises enjoyment over endurance. The textbook expression, perhaps, of a proper neighbourhood restaurant.
The Jane Eyre, 14 Hood Street, Ancoats, M4 6WX
Follow Richard on Twitter @eatingthenorth
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.
bread 8, croquettes 8, tomatoes 8, goats cheese 6, crab 8, chicken 6, cake 7
Informal but on it
A happy hubbub of folk having a good time