IT was just one of those vegan days. An email alert for next month’s Central Manchester Vegan Fair, a card in the station waiting room for a non-dairy eating electrician, ‘Vegan Spark’, a peep into a (packed) V-Revolution in the Northern Quarter, award-winner for dishes such as chickenless ‘KFC’, and then, en route to catch a train to Stockport, stumbling upon a food truck handing out free vegan meals, to promote an animal sanctuary.
Not wanting to spoil my appetite for my upcoming tasting menu at The Allotment I just nibbled on this tub of vegan curry on a bench in Stockport station. Short on spice, big on bland brown rice, it spoke volumes about those whose palate is dominated by ethical concerns rather than any delight in food’s taste.
It doesn’t have to be like this… and it wasn’t – at Matthew Nutter’s ambitious vegan, gluten-free restaurant just off Stockport’s Market Place.
It’s a damn sight easier to find than Where The Light Gets In, its supportive soulmate in the vanguard of contemporary, casual fine dining in an unlikely spot. Soulmate’s perhaps not quite apt since Sam Buckley at WTLGI had fed me bull’s testicle and ox heart, while the merest sniff of animal is taboo at The Allotment.
Dairy, too. Hence chef Nutter’s fiendishly bonkers simulation of cheese (above) using fermented nut pastes, served with raw crackers. But those arrived at the end of a meal that held attention without a dud note throughout the £55 Tasting Menu.
It is all dizzyingly disorienting. I’m still unsure where cashew cream replaces the cow-driven stuff; sweet potato certainly pops up in various manifestations and root veg such as cauliflower and celeriac provide substance. Astonishingly vegan stalwart the aubergine doesn’t figure on the night I’m there.
I thank whatever gods vegans pray to that Quorn and rehydrated textured soya protein in any of its forms doesn’t feature on the menus; nor that trendy wheat protein seitan (not gluten-free anyway).
What is delivered at The Allotment is Pleasure. We shared the 30-cover dining room with a 10-strong Christmas party (main picture), who’d “come for the buzz”, four lasses raucously (in a nice way) enjoying their BYO flagon of Prosecco over a starter of variegated raw beetroot and sweet potato hummus and a mixed older clientele, most of whom we guessed weren’t hardcore dietary zealots.
It helps that Nutter comes from a background in gourmet kitchens such as Mike Jennings’ much-missed Grenache in Walkden. He has the skills and has given himself a challenge. Following his own personal fitness/marathon regime, he realised he needed to shed the ‘luxury’ accoutrements of standard ‘fine dining’. Does he succeed? Triumphantly, cheese substitutes apart.
The raw beetroot fingers to dip in the delicate hummus established the finesse of what was to follow – dill cream with roast fennel, then an intense soup of white sweet potato (told you) with wild mushroom garnish… from ethereal anise to earthy umami in two mouthfuls.
Then the trio of mains, each arriving at a nice pace and surprisingly substantial yet not overfilling because of the absence of mega-protein and carbodhydrate.
Savoury parfaits are hard to pull off. This meltingly buttery version with shitake and chestnut, matched with a balsamic beetroot chutney, was thing of beauty, too, scattered with petals.
Altogether butcher (not as in meat!) was robust roast celeriac and capers with a sharp chilli and coriander salsa and Thai sticky rice arancini. The third ‘movement’, Southern Spiced Cauliflower, offered a beautiful balance of earthy flavours and textures between the deep-fried cauli, a sweet parsnip puree, braised celery, slow-cooked artichoke, all bound by smoked macadamia nut ‘cheese’ crumbles. By now the absence of meat was completely forgotten.
Pre-dessert and dessert were conventional and accomplished. First a mango sorbet peppered with black sesame seeds, then a hugely rich chocolate orange brownie with a creme anglaise, made from almond or was it sweet potato?
After that, no, I couldn’t get my head around the ‘cultured nut cheeses’. The coriander-almond one was pleasant enough, then came another with a rough texture and a final one pocked with cranberries (which I don’t like happening to real cheese).
There’s no license as such, so if interesting juice mixes and leaf teas aren’t your bag bring your own booze for a small corkage fee.
The Allotment ‘theme’ runs to ivy-entangled garden implements and a ladder on the light green walls. It’s not big on plants and pots like Allotment Bar (no relation) or Evelyn’s in the Northern Quarter. What is flourishing here is a clear-eyed reassessment of our dining habits. Matthew’s Plantfoodpowerchef Ltd pop-up that began in Wigan in May 2015 is no wacky, earth-hugging enterprise. The tip fiver I handed over was of the tallow ilk, but tainted grimace came there none. I felt satisfied yet unbloated. A balanced end to my vegan day.
The Allotment, 6 Vernon St, Stockport SK1. Open Thur-Sat 6pm-11pm and Sun 12pm-4pm.