Monday, 19 May 2014

Aumbry - Prestwich, Manchester

I've had such a long list of places to check out in the city that i'd found myself getting a bit lazy and sticking to places I could stumble home from after a big meal and beers / cocktails / wine (delete as appropriate depending upon the dinner i've had that evening). Aumbry has been right near the top of my 'to eat' list even before I moved North so I decided to get it ticked off. 

I'd been hoping to use the trip as an excuse to explore Prestwich a little but it was an absolutely miserable night and none of the pubs on the main street looked particularly appealing. Fortunately turning up early didn't cause any issues at all and we were greeted extremely warmly and were offered a drink in the lounge where we could browse the menu and have a pre-dinner drink. 

From the outside, the restaurant has the appearance of an adorable little house tucked away on an unassuming side street and this homely feel continued upstairs, it all felt very informal and almost like having a gin in your nans front room. I managed to have a quick nose through some of the cookbooks on the window sill upstairs and was impressed that the first one I opened (Momofuku) was actually signed (presumably by David Chang but the signature was indecipherable).

We started sharing a couple of drinks, The first being a gin and sherry cocktail with rose petals and elderflower, fantastic deep warming flavour. The second was a Bellini, which is pretty difficult to make a mess of and was a solid rendition.

Cucumber infused water was served up as a palate cleanser shortly after the drinks. It dawned on me half way through that sipping this and then my cocktail was probably pretty much missing the whole point but it was a refreshing little drink all the same.

A few snacks were also served in the upstairs waiting room. Mini savoury profiteroles were first, extremely delicate pastry still very warm from the oven and filled with liquid consistency melted smoked cheese that immediately burst all over my fingers. 

A small bowl of deep fried peas with salt and vinegar quickly followed, very crunchy battered peas with black bean mousse hidden beneath. The crispy topping was so delicious that i'd scoffed most of it before noticing the dense pea mousse hidden below which had little flavour on it's own, a better explanation of the dish or how to eat would definitely have helped with this one.
(Clockwise from top left; gin and sherry cocktail, profiteroles, palate cleanser, deep fried peas with black bean mousse)

At this point we ordered the food (a choice of 6 or 9 courses) and wine which was a nice touch as it meant no menus were cluttering the table as we were seated downstairs.

The dining room continues the quaint cottage theme (not really a theme as such I suppose as it is a house after all), some of the photos such as giant Dennis Hopper overlooking the room didn't really make any sense to me but definitely gave the place a clear personality of it's own. I was really surprised by how small and cosy the dining room felt - there was only space for around 40 covers with a full view of the kitchen from any of the seats.

First up ahead of the food starting was another palate cleanser - this time it was a wonderful wild flower green tea with honey, served in a delicate china cup from a tiny teapot. A very twee start to proceedings which did it's job well - by this time i'd necked my cocktail so did genuinely need a cleanser before dinner proper began.

The first food course was Bury black pudding scotch egg with tomato sauce and set the scene well for the standard of cooking to come. The scotch egg was stunning, the still tender quails egg finished with a perfect fine crisp outer crust. I bit into the egg expecting the lining to be dense but it was lighter than I thought pudding could possibly be. A whole bowl of these still wouldn't have been enough - a really clever first course to start the meal.

Next up was cured goat ham, accompanied by goats cheese, a sprinkling of fresh sorrel and with a tiny piece of crackling sat on top. I haven't eaten a lot of goat previously and it's a flavour i'm still getting accustomed to, it tasted great here and the mix of the textures was very impressive - the cheese worked so well with the sorrel.
(L-R; Bury black pudding scotch egg, bread, dipping and butters)

A bread course followed, the bread itself was fine but the show here was entirely stolen by a small dish of beef dripping which was just incredible, so dark and rich. Two butter options also appeared with the bread - Bolton salted butter and brown nut butter. I'm a real fan of salted fresh butter and these were both fantastic, like the dripping they both had a really deep flavour but with their own subtle differences.

No extra bread was offered and the butter dishes themselves were left on the table until the first dessert course - we heard other tables offered more bread but not us, this sort of poor service that starts to take the shine off a meal like this.

Smoked mackerel with roast celeriac and rye crisps up next. The mackerel tasted almost raw and was very fresh on the palate, the accompanying taste of mustard obvious but not overpowering with crunchy celeriac and rye crisps adding a rich savoury element to balance everything. Another very impressive dish - flavours, textures and presentation all perfect.
(Clockwise from top left; cured goat, smocked mackerel, hare, scallop ceviche)

At this point things really slowed down and we had to wait approximately 25 minutes for the next course to show up, these things happen when enjoying taster menus and i'd hoped this was down to delays in the kitchen that they would catch up on as things progressed.

Scallop ceviche was an odd one, i'm a huge fan of scallops but here the tender, melt in the mouth scallop together with the bitter crispy vegetable was too different and just didn't work together for me. The small pieces of bread placed around the outside were unusually soft and the consistency made them quite interesting in themselves but just another addition to a dish that further confused it all.

It's quite unusual to see hare on a menu so was really looking forward to this course. The meat was very dark and chewy as you'd expect, almost verging on the taste of kidney with the slightly odd scent it often has. The meat with the tart crisp turnip cubes absolutely wowed me, a much better combination than the previous scallop course.
(Left - cheeses. Top right; suet pudding. Bottom right; goat two ways)

Next up was suet pudding, accompanied by a piece of plaice. I'd had a few glasses of wine by this stage and my notes go slightly askew but i'm sure the waitress mentioned oyster to some regard. The suet pudding itself was extremely rich and heavy, exactly as you'd want but was essentially hollow with what resembled a mussel hidden away in the bottom. This was one of the densest courses I remember on a taster menu and worked well at this stage of the meal. 

Next up was goat two ways with kale and charlotte potatoes, this time the animal appeared to have been slow cooked resulting in an extremely succulent meat which was complimented nicely with the vegetables. 

Cheese – 6 various selections with oatcakes and three chutneys including apple and a traditional onion. The cheese portions were not exactly generous but a thought out mix, all having very different flavours - I was particularly impressed by one of the offerings and had to get the waitress to remind me of the name so I could stock up in the future. 

Grapefruit posset with celery granita and a spoonful of sherbet was the first dessert course. Extremely enjoyable, the first spoonful of the granita with the sherbet and posset was just fantastic - the rich custard base went on to mix with the granita as I continued to eat and it just got better and better. 

There was a further dessert course of rhubarb and broken meringue, again very good.

Sweet black pudding then followed, this time the "black pudding" was made up with black forest gateau - a clever play play on the first course of the menu and took the meal full circle. 
(Clockwise from top left; dessert black pudding, rhubarb meringue, petit fours, grapefruit posset)

By this point the long wait between courses was starting to get unbearable and we were tired of waiting so just asked for the bill without teas or coffees, this seemed to immediately send the staff into meltdown and a couple of petit fours came very quickly.

The petit fours were olive oil biscuits with orange cream, then rhubab and custard jellies with popping candy, which were very cold and finally a hazelnut caramel milk ice lolly, which I was advised to eat quickly before it melted but wasn't very cold.

Final mini dessert snack was a apple kickshaw, a bite sized apple fritter. Very sweet and doughy like a fresh doughnut. 

Overall the food very extremely impressive and very highly recommended. Unfortunately the meal was almost ruined by the pacing which was very poor and not at the level you’d expect for somewhere of this standard. I appreciate that some of the dishes require a lot of preparation but to have the initial 3-4 courses appear very quickly to whet your appetite and then see delays from the kitchen stretched to over 30 minutes between the courses at times. The best example of this is that the cheese course took 20 minutes to appear which for something that takes little to no preparation is staggering and made the choice to add it in completely regrettable however good the cheeses ended up being. 

The 9 courses, plus extras took approximately 4 hours and for such a small restaurant and number of covers it's bizarre that things could be so poorly paced. The only choices on the menu were 6 or 9 so they had on a la carte to deal with. I did spot on the website that they can prepare a 12 course taster with prior notice, presumably this prior notice is needed so they can contact the council and extend their late licence for the extra couple of hours needed to serve the additional courses.

I’m glad to have been and on the whole the food was of a high standard and I would definitely go back at some point in the future and prepare myself for the service. If everything had been smoother it’d take the experience from a 7/10 to a solid 8 or 9.

Aumbry on Urbanspoon

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