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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Restaurant Review - Alston Bar & Beef, Cathedral Gate, Corn Exchange Manchester


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One of my favourite places to eat in Glasgow is Alston Bar& Beef, a fantastic restaurant hidden under Glasgow Central train station that specialises in steak and gin. Not content with offering thediners of Glasgow with top end prime beef and an almost endless selection of gin, owners Glendora Leisure recently opened a second Alston Bar & Beef in Manchester’s Corn Exchange. (The Alston name comes from the old street in Glasgow’s forgetten past where the Glasgow restaurant is now located)

Recently myself and Nicola were visiting Manchester and upon hearing that Gerry’s Kitchen would be in the city, we were kindly invited along to Alston Bar & Beef Manchester to see how it compared with the original.

Manchester’s Corn Exchange is a Grade II listed building which has had a colourful history. Originally built in 1837 as a gathering place for farmers to sell their grain before being demolished and rebuilt in 1897. Economic depression during the 1920s & 1930s followed by declining trade after the Second World War seen the trading floor fall into disuse. Jump forward thirty years and the building acted as home to the Royal Exchange Theatre Company as well as a filming location for the popular BBC television show, Brideshead Revisited, before becoming a gathering place for alternative communities and a large market up to the mid 1990s. After suffering extensive damage as a result of the 1996 IRA bomb attack, the building was renovated again and opened as the Triangle Shopping Centre with Adidas, O’Neill and MUJI opening flagship stores. 


The Triangle was relaunched as Corn Exchange Manchester in 2012 with plans to turn the building into a a food outlet and hotel and in 2014 demolition companies started the painstaking process of ripping out modern fixtures and fitting and restoring the building back to its Edwardian origins. 
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The resulting Corn Exchange is a fantastic hub of restaurants and bar with a huge range of food options available. Keeping in character with the Glasgow Alston Bar & Beef, the Manchester restaurant is also a hidden gem with access to the restaurant through a entrance on Cathedral Gate before taking a flight of stairs down into a huge bar and restaurant space located in the bowels of the grand building. 

The dining area is huge but lowered ceilings with exposed air conditioning ducts plus art-deco style sliding glass doors help give the restaurant a cosy feel. No expense has been spared with the interior of the Alston Bar & Beef Manchester with marble bar and matching tabletops plus Victorian styled hexagonal tiling immediately catching the eye and despite the fact that this addition to the Alston brand is 200 miles away from the original, the interior designers have done a fantastic job to replicate the styling from Glasgow whilst adding something very unique to the Manchester restaurant scene.
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Alston Bar & Beef do two things extremely well - Beef (obviously) and Gin, and as we had arrived a little early for dinner, we had time to relax with a pre-dinner drink before taking our table. With an extensive range of UK and world gins available, we struggled to choose but Nicola eventually picked one of her favourites, Harris Gin served with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic while I decided to order something more ‘local’ and selected Three Rivers Gin which was served with Double Dutch Tonic.

Harris Gin is often known more for its award winning bottle design but the gin inside is definitely worthy of the beautiful packaging. It might smell like a traditional gin with juniper and coriander seed dominating the nose but the addition of locally foraged sugar kelp give a slight sweet finish on the palate which is balanced perfectly with the saltiness from the tonic. As for my own gin, distilled only a mile or so from the restaurant, Three Rivers Gin ticks all the right boxes with almond and orange peel and oats helping to create a creamy gin with a citrus bite. Double Dutch Tonic is the work of two sisters originally from the Netherlands but now living in London who wanted to create a range of mixers that complement the varying styles of gin that have turned up over the last few years. Their original tonic is less intense than others on the market and really allowed the flavours from the Three Rivers Gin to stand out.

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The a la carte menu has a good selection of dishes that aren’t steak but as we were here for the beef, we wanted a good red wine to go with the main event. The wine list is pretty extensive with a good range of red, white and sparkling wines at budgets to suit everyone. We chose a bottle of Ochagavia Merlot from Chile which was an easy-drinking wine with a good balance of red fruit flavours and a slightly smoky finish - perfect for our Jasper cooked steak.

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The restaurant serves up a great value pre-theatre menu but as we were eating a little later in the evening we were dining from the a la carte which is varied enough without being too overbearing. Nicola opted for a starter of Arbroath Smokie & Crowdie Roulade with Charred Corn, Baked Potato Foam and Parmesan Tuile. 

Big flakes of rich smoked haddock were bound with soft, crumbly fresh cheese before being rolled in toasted breadcrumbs. The charred corn brought a sweetness that was the perfect foil for the slightly acidic Crowdie while the Parmesan tuile added a salty bite to the dish. The baked potato foam didn’t really carry any real depth of potato flavour but that didn’t take away from this starter being a great example of texture and flavour balancing.

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I’m still not sure how I managed to avoid the steak tartare but when our waitress asked for our order, I excitedly blurted out Lamb Belly! My starter of Tweed Valley Lamb Belly with Anchovy Kedgeree and Lemon & Coriander Oil was sublime. 

The slow cooked lamb belly was soft and tender yet crispy on the edges while the anchovy kedgeree brought just enough saltiness to cut through the sweet lamb. No kedgeree is complete without a boiled egg and the accompanying soft yoked egg was perfectly cooked and added further dimension to what was already a well flavoured dish. My starter was finished off with a drizzle of lemon and coriander oil which worked well with the lamb and acted as a pleasant palate cleanser.

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East Lothian master butcher John Gilmour supplies Alston Bar & Beef with all of their Tweed Valley steaks, chosen from the best Limousine cross Aberdeen Angus cattle which is dry aged on the bone for a minimum of 35 days. In recent times, myself and Nicola have taken to ordering a large steak to share along with a couple of sides and tonight was no different as we settled on the 300g ribeye, cooked medium. 
The Josper Grill is a marvellous invention, a charcoal grill that doubles as a conventional oven which allows chefs to cook meat quickly and at intense heat whilst adding all the flavour that you would get from the hottest indoor barbecue.

There’s not much that I can say except that our ribeye steak was pretty much perfect. Well seasoned, well flavoured and cooked exactly as we like. Throw in a side of garlic and herb butter and you’ve got two happy diners.

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Our two accompanying side dishes were both perfect. The hand cut chips, served in a cute copper cup, were crispy on the outside and fluffy inside and seasoned with a scattering of sea salt flakes. I’m not one to get overly excited about simple things like chips but these were fantastic and could easily imagine spending a lazy lunch hour sat at the bar without a care in the world as long as I had a cup (or two) of chips and a glass of chilled white wine.

Macaroni Cheese is a great accompaniment to a good steak - I’m not sure why but it could be something to do with the rich creamy cheese sauce acting as a foil to the iron rich meat - but what ever it is, Truffled Mac’n’Cheese takes it to another level providing that Chef hasn’t been too heavy handed with the truffle oil (or fresh truffle depending on the venue). This was pretty much bang on where it needed to be - the macaroni was cooked well with just a little bite but the overriding flavour was still the sharp cheesy sauce with subtle flavours of truffle doing enough to add a taste dimension that worked well with our perfectly cooked ribeye.

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I’ve said in the past that the poached pear dessert at Alston is the best dessert in Glasgow and although we were both feeling quite full, we couldn’t not check to see if it was as good in Manchester as it is back home.

A lightly spiced, soft poached pear was served on top of a bed of toasted oat crumble with a copper pot of cream anglais and pear gel. The recipe travels well and this was the perfect way to end our meal. The pear was soft and juicy, the toasted oat crumbled added a balance of texture and the creme anglais wasn’t too sweet. I’ve not eaten too many desserts in Manchester but I might stick my neck out and say that the Alston poached pear pudding is the best in the city!

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With dinner finished and a lengthy walk back to our hotel ahead of us, we decided to squeeze in one more drink before bracing the cold. This gave us time to get a quick look at ‘1837’, a cool speakeasy style bar hidden behind a velvet curtain. Named after the year that the original Corn Exchange was built, this bar allows diners to enjoy their meal in the restaurant before chilling with friends or family over a gin or two. Unfortunately the bar wasn’t open on the quiet Wednesday evening of our visit but I can imagine that come the weekend, 1837 is one of Manchester’s busiest yet best keep secrets.

So with our drinks finished, we made our way into the cold evening with the opinion that everything that Alston Bar & Beef do so well in Glasgow is replicated perfectly in Manchester.

We dined as guests of the restaurant but my review above is an honest account of our experience on the night and I would have no hesitation in recommending Alston Bar & Beef Manchester to anyone looking for quality and style in the northwest. We would like to thank the staff and management  for their hospitality and generosity on the night and wish them all the best for the future.

Keep up to date with news and offers from Alston Bar & Beef Manchester on Facebook and Twitter.

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