Jack Spratt – Manchester

NOW SHUT. THIS IS NOW A THAI RESTAURANT

Having crept into Jack Spratt a couple times for lunch and hugely enjoyed the odd burger with chips and special sauce, I thought it only right to give the old place a check out at night, or rather evening. Being a tight wad The Spratt establishment tempt the after work brigade with a three course binge for £17 between 5-7pm. It was during these teasing hours that I was able to sway the wife (hitherto referred to as ‘the flame’) to travel into Manchester and see for herself what I had occasionally banged on about.
Clearly the early start was having the effect, by 6.30pm the place was humming gently. Jack Spratt is placed handily in Manchester city centre with Albert Square nestling over its shoulder. It is set in a rather bland, grey, square building and the chaps have to work hard to get it to stand out. Wood panelling and jaunty graphics give it a fun edge. Inside its a more bistro/cafe than fine dining splendour, but it suits the mood.

The waiters are clad in denim, sneakers and facial hair all adding to the relaxed feel. They know their stuff though, helping to describe the dishes in detail when required.

Things really spice up when you get the menu. Could have started with Smoked haddock and cod gratin served with a lemon and brioche breadcrumbs! But I went for Paprika and orange soaked baby back pork ribs to start with a beautifully dressed sweet potato, beet root and green salad. The flame went for the Continental platter, which contained ‘Borettane’ baby onions? pesto marinated feta, garlic marinated button mushrooms, Sicilian olives, grilled halloumi, mozzarella and marinated peppers. A fine start.

The mains shook things up a bit. The flame loves fish, chicken and numerous other tasters but was slightly put off with the unusual accompaniments. She plugged in for the ‘JS demi primo burger’ (6oz ground beef chuck, flat iron and short rib, caramelised onion & bacon jam, ‘Makers Mark’ bourbon whiskey BBQ sauce, pulled pork, coleslaw, smoked applewood cheese and an onion ring, all in a glazed brioche bun with a tin of twice cooked fries) with an additional splash of the highly recommended JS chilli burger sauce. It looked and tasted great.

I went off beam across the page to the ‘Mexican Mole’, described as 48 hour slow cooked lamb in a chocolate infused Mexican chilli sauce served with desiccated coconut and almond red rice, tortilla bread, mint salsa and radish shavings. It was very unusual in that the textures were mixed, cold salsa, warm rice, hot mole. The overall effect was rather splendid, but going ‘off piste’ as it were cost me £14.

Desert was a traditional lemon posset and was a dream. This topped the meal off rather splendidly.

Total cost with very nice vino and a fine bottle of Thwaites Wainwright ale came to £52. Well worth a try for those looking for something a little different.

Book online www.jack-spratt.co.uk or

11 St James’s Square

John Dalton St

Manchester M2 6WH

0161 833 1016

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The Axminster Canteen (River Cottage)

The holidays for 2013 found the cook twit in east devon on the south coast. Crab was plundered with the veracity of a wigan bar tender looking to reduce his stock of pies. However, as an alternative, a look on the map quickly picked up on Axminster home of Hugh Fearnely Whittingstall’s River Cottage offshoot Axminster Canteen. This is often featured in the TV programmes where his mate and fellow chef Sam challenges his lordship with alternative recipes (and often wins!)

The canteen is set in a double shop frontage in the centre of this pleasant market town. It doubles up as a deli and cafe in the day and features the HFW and River Cottage ‘merch’. The resteraunt bit is at the back in a sort of Victorian hanger. The decor is eclectic, rustic with a nod to ‘upcycling’. A gentle jazz soundtrack permeates.

As if to emphasise the sustainable and local ethic the menu is chalked up on blackboards along with the names of the local producers of the ingredients on offer. It is clear that no Belgian truck driver has laid down his sleep overnight to bring the food here tonight. It was most likely dropped off by wheelbarrow earlier in the day by ‘Georgie’ from Elbow Farm.

The menu is not extensive by any means but it is novel and seasonal. Rabbit and Ewe curd on bruschetta to start anyone?
My wife opted for what I called the ‘three shades of hummus’ starter. Very colourful and big on taste, one was scented in cumin, one in beet root and the other with mushroom. I had a standard but very pleasant plate of Exmouth mussels.

For the bigger dish I had slithers of venison loin with mash, jus, beautiful buttered cabbage and a green salsa while my wife had sustainable pollack, devon spuds with roasted tomato. We shared a beautifully dressed bowl of organic leaves, featuring pea shoots complete with flowers. Portion size might concern some, but we were perfectly satiated.

For the sweeter end we both plumbed for the gooseberry crumble. Presented in a big jar, the chantilly cream, gooseberry mush and crumble was layered several times to create a wonderfully sweet desert.

With a fine Lyme Regis Cobb beer and a glass of red, the bill came to £62 for the two of us. An acceptable total for what was a truly pleasant meal served in a warm atmosphere by very friendly staff.

The place was packed out even on a Thursday night from 6.30pm onwards. It would seem that booking would be a good idea!