THE middle ground. Politics seems to be abandoning it and chucking milkshakes is now our prime method of discourse. In restaurants it’s a hard position to occupy, too – that ‘not quite a special occasion destination’ that still delivers quality to a loyal batch of regulars. Let’s call it the bistro fix. The steady trickle of closures shows what a fickle quest it is.
Certainly the current food scene demands a certain flexibility in a classically trained chef. Take Curtis Stewart. Bury-raised, Wigan trained, off he went to serve time in some serious Michelin kitchens – Whatley Manor and Coworth Park, before becoming head chef at Cotswolds hotel, Foxhill Manor.
He returned to his native turf some four years ago, given his head to produce ambitious tasting menus at short-lived Quill in King Street, best remembered for its array of stuffed crows amid the mock-Gothic gloom.
Still we treasure the memory of Curtis’s food there, so his recent appointment as exec chef consultant at Albatross & Arnold aroused our curiosity. Hired for the same cutting edge approach? Owner Andrew McLoughney (nain picture wirh Curtis) is a self-confessed high-end foodie, who has dined in some of the world’s top places.
Hence the series of small plates we reviewed when it opened 18 month ago. They aimed high with mixed success, which might be blamed on a sudden chef turnover in a kitchen that was effectively a one-man band. Also we couldn’t resist poking gentle fun at Andrew’s standalone restaurant being yoked to The Range, his popular golf simulation venue.
That’s still down the corridor but the 40-cover first floor restaurant space has been subtly revamped as has the food offering in a surprising way. Curated by Curtis it is definitely a middle ground menu – albeit with some real finesse. Maybe there are recollections of Quill in hay-smoked rump of saltmarsh lamb and chicken accompaniments smoked swede, wild garlic and pickled carrots (memo: life is too short to smoke a root vegetable).
The chicken cost £18, a beautifully roasted monkfish fillet in chicken butter sauce a quid more (and a good few quid less than monkfish at fellow middle ground contender Kala in King Street), while simpler dish of of baked cod with warm tartare sauce and chef’s interpretation of scraps was just £13.
An equal simplicity reigns among the snack list (lamb koftas,Scotch eggs), perfect for matching with the cut-above wine and cocktail list. Puddings, too, though perhaps £9 is a bit steep for a banoffee pie, albeit with caramelised banana, caramel and 70% chocolate, and maybe ‘selection of ice creams and sorbets – chef’s choice daily’ should have yielded more than two scoops of passionfruit sorbet.
Curtis, now 32 with a young family, looks happy to be home – his last billet was in Good Food Guide lauded restaurant in Leamington Spa – with a calmer agenda. Consultant means he won’t constantly be in the kitchen.
He told us: “Naturally our aim is to produce consistently outstanding food, so our focus is on creating small, seasonal sharing plates enabling everyone to explore a range of dishes and flavours. We are passionate about supporting other independents nd largely use regional suppliers – always of the very best quality.”
For the record, once again, Albatross is the term for a three under par on a single hole and Arnold represents the US golfing legend. As non-golfers ToM my not feel at home on The Range but may well swing by A&A again soon.
Albatross & Arnold at The Range, Spinningfields Leftbank, Manchester, M3 3AN. 0161 325 4444.