WOULD you book a restaurant on the strength of its soundtrack? Thought not. Unless your idea of a good time is lashings of Van Halen and a Hard Rock Jumbo Combo. On an early Friday evening if Altrincham Market House was playing Led Zep at full cock rock whack you might not register it such is the overwhelming babble of ‘weekend’s here’ contentment emanating from packed family-friendly, dog-friendly communal tables. Talk about cornering the market.
Around the corner newcomer Blanchflower, tentatively launching three evenings of dinner menus on the back of its daytime (from 10am) artisan bakery led offering, welcomes us with the leftfield sounds of Mark Kozelek and Courtney Bartnett. The food, though excellent, will never quite match the perfect pitch of this and increasingly eclectic vibes from a cutting edge system. Co-owner Phil Howells comes from the music biz background, notably as an A&R man for Pete Tong’s label.
More recently Phil and wife Claire are responsible for those superior coffee outlets, Caffeine & Co. Blanchflower on Shaw’s Road is a much more ambitious project, unashamedly aiming to tap into the Market Quarter buzz, much in the way that neighbours Sugo and Porta have.
There’s an indie purity of aim, too, the credibility of which we have come to check out. A sustainable ethos that encompasses baking their own bread, cakes and pastries, curing and smoking their own salmon, making their own bacon and sausages, fermenting and pickling their vegetables. Yes, there are a lot of pickles about. We even order a plate of them as an appetiser (main image). They go well with the cornucopia of bread on offer. It’s odd but sympathetic.
Though the place is early days quiet (you notice it more because the tables are widely spaced), head chef Raf Dziewonski and his team are busy on the hamster wheel of self-sufficient production. It reminds me a mite of the hipster/forager absorption of Where The Light Gets In.
Then the food starts to arrive. Punters have been confused about how many small plates to order, so from this night forth the menu has been tweaked to include mains. What we find very attractive is a four course table d’hote for £30 that takes all the hassle away. My lovely companion goes in that direction, while I mix and match snacks, smaller plates, a main and the inevitable heritage carrot side… and then we share everything except my sloppy cockles, baby turnips and pickled grapes in a sherry and dill broth (£6.50), which is really rather picklesome in a cute way. A kind of Nordic gazpacho.
I mop it up with bread, which is not quite as awesome as its artisan publicity. The house grissini are decidedly a stolid chew.
Vol au vents, now there’s a retro buffet snack. We share two for £4.50, a meaty one and a mushroomy one and rediscover their flaky pleasures. Then it’s a fruity, refreshing starter of salt baked beetroot, hazelnuts, homemade curds and raspberry vinaigrette (£6.50) before the evening’s stand-out dish of crisp skinned rainbow trout, fermented pepper hollandaise, chives and puffed potatoes (£13).
Next up the plant-based dish de nos jours – charcoal grilled cauliflower (£13), chewily al dente with fermented cauliflower and peppercorn sauce enhancing its surrogate meatiness.
A free range chicken breast for the same price had also seen the charcoal, a thigh confited to accompany it with mushroom two ways, including a velvety veloute.
Puddings are a strength given the bakery’s status at Blanchflower (named apparently after Phil’s football hero, Spurs legend Danny, not United’s Jackie, who survived Munich).
An orange and cardamom custard tart (£6.50) almost threatens to rival Gary Usher’s at Hispi; the poached rhubarb pleasingly tart (sic) for once, while an apple and almond streusel (£6.50) with custard and cardamon orange sauce is a candidate for best pud of 2018 so far.
I’d urge some of the folk predictably flocking to the monopolising Market House, to make the 10 second walk across the road and check out Blanchflower, both daytime and Thursday to Saturday evenings when it’s doing dinner so interestingly. Otherwise I fear it may wilt in the location where it hoped to thrive.
Blanchflower, 12-14 Shaw's Rd, Altrincham WA14 1QU. 0161 929 6724.