Can vegan cheese and broccoli ever contend with steak smothered in peppercorn sauce? We went to Bock Biere Cafe to find out
WHEN it comes to fondue in Manchester, there's only one real contender. Bock Biere Cafe has expanded its fondue menu over its three years of opening to cover all bases of communal dipping.
From the Classic Cheese Fondue, to the endorphin-rush Chocolate Fondue, to the Sunday Roast Fondue that got so popular they had to start selling it on Mondays too.
Last summer they launched the Bock Vegan Fondue, which to vegans sounds wonderful, and to omnivores sounds like something best avoided, along with facon (fake bacon) and sheese (shit cheese).
That bubbling vat of peppercorn creaminess exerted a magnetic pull on everything at the table.
This summer, to put the planets back in alignment, they've balanced out the menu with a full-on meat festival of a fondue. It's called the Peppercorn Carne Fondue and is one of two new fondues alongside the Seafood Mariniere Fondue.
Because you can't have yin without yang, and night without day, we went as a foursome to try the meat and the vegan fondues.
But which pot ended up the cleanest? Which dippers disappeared the fastest? And could we ever be persuaded to swap a tender steak smothered in peppercorn sauce for mange tout smeared with vegan cheese?
The Bock Vegan Fondue
On the board:
This was much more exciting than we'd expected thanks to the variety of flavours and textures. Crunchy char grill veggies sat alongside spongy-soft rosemary focaccia, crispy tofu, and rustic potato rosti. The veggie version of bitterballens deserve a special mention – made with sweet potato, chickpeas, mixed veg, and Bock's homemade chilli jam, they were spicy and sweet. Like falafel but better.
In the pot:
The menu mentioned vegan cheese, but we all agreed that this didn't taste very cheesy – and that's where its success lay. Rather than using ultra-processed substitute foods, they've created a quality bechamel-style sauce from all-natural ingredients including potato, rice and white wine.
It had a gorgeously creamy texture and a slightly nutty taste that will appeal to all palates, not just vegan ones. It was the ideal sauce for the veggie dippers because it let their more subtle flavours shine through.
The Peppercorn Carne Fondue
On the board:
Eyes lit up at its arrival, and those strips of tender, pink steak weren't around for long. Bock has always impressed us with its ability to turn out tender yet really flavoursome cuts of meat, and this board showed they haven't lost the knack.
Everyone had a different favourite – the juicy, spicy chicken, the beef brisket which peeled away like a Cheese String, the herby button mushrooms, even the skin-on frites,
In the pot:
If the chef can make a creamy sauce when dairy is off the menu, imagine what he can do when it's back on? This peppercorn sauce was a beauty – double cream and brandy made us wonder if they'd added a shot of Baileys, shallots added sweetness, and the peppercorns gave it enough bite to stand up against that robust trio of meats.
Some of the vegan dippers got dunked in there as well. That bubbling vat of peppercorn creaminess exerted a magnetic pull on everything at the table.
Our personal favourite?
A tricky one because they complemented each other so well. If you're an omnivore, order both – the two together was a beautifully balanced feast with lots of different elements to enjoy. Think of it like tapas mixed with roast dinner mixed with fondue.
If you're vegan or veggie or simply want a lighter, more summery fondue, the vegan fondue won't disappoint – that sauce was a triumph, the variety of dippers too.
They both put up a strong fight. If you want an out-and-out winner, you'll have to go there yourself for a rematch because we're not willing to call it.
The Peppercorn Carne Fondue (£35) and the Bock Vegan Fondue (£22) are both served Tuesday-Saturday from midday until 10pm at Bock Biere Cafe, 10 Tib Lane, Manchester city centre, M2 4JB.
What we were drinking
While fondue is traditionally served with wine, it works a treat with one of Bock's Biere Flights. Manager Chris recommended the Hacker Pschorr as a light, refreshing beer to start, the Delerium Tremens as a good accompaniment for the vegetables, and the Westmalle Dubbel as a rich, complex pairing for the meat.
Others at the table had Bock's German session lager, which is a popular choice with a cheese fondue. And a Creme Brulee cocktail, which has probably never been ordered with a fondue before and probably never will be again, but actually complemented it really well.