FINE tuning a small plate offering is a tricky task. On a tapas menu you’d be astonished if albondigas, padron peppers, croquetas and tortillas were suddenly ditched. Salford’s new Spanish arrival Porta offers these and countless other perennial faves alongside a few changing specials, but it’s not reinventing the template.
Elnecot does it differently, changing its ‘small is beautiful’ menu in response to the seasons with the ingredients as English as its name, an ancient title for Ancoats.
In that hip fiefdom there’s something for everyone – Sugo and Rudy’s for Italian, Canto Portuguese, Nam Vietnamese. All determinedly neighbourhood casual like Elnecot. Only the 14 course menus of Mana break the mould. Despite obvious Nordic inspiration it claims kinship with ‘Modern British Cuisine’.
That’s much more the remit for chef/patron Michael Clay at Elnecot 200ft away. The inspiration is our own regional culinary roots and if kimchi and curry show up on the new Winter Menu that’s because our roots are just a bit more globally tangled than of yore.
Clay, who has cooked across continents, has a love for spices and ferments but it is all discreetly done. The latest curry, a rich beef shin one (£7) is not going to cauterise your tonsils just as a spicy red dahl we order (£6) is not going to raise a sweat. Both are topped with ‘crunchy bits’ and are comforting as befits winter fodder. Ditto another new dish, a mutton casserole with a cheese and chive mash topping (£8) that captures the depths of flavour you can extract from this undervalued meat.
Two fish dishes were both slightly overcooked but didn’t suffer over much – mackerel has always been an Elnecot mainstay and a quartet of seasonings/accompaniments cut through its oiliness – salt beets, horseradish, hazelnut and, a delicious first for us, quince ketchup (£6.50). Coley, piscine poor relation but sustainable, got an exotic treatment with a slick of spiced parsnip puree and a turmeric-tinged cauli bjaji (£7.50). A lovely flavour combo.
We mopped it up with the remains of some home-made focaccia, in my case, slathered with chicken skin butter; without for my pescatarian/vegetarian dining companion, for whom we ordered two dishes showcasing determinedly seasonal vegetables. Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes (£4 and £6 respectively) emerged with an umami-like concentration, the first from roasting and an anchovy butter dressing, the second stoved and then drenched with parsley pesto. We agreed one of these dishes would have been enough.
One each wasn’t quite enough with the pudding additions to the menu, though. A homely bread and butter pudding with a berry sauce (£5) because it was just a little small and the similarly priced, much larger Manchester Tart because it was the best I’ve ever tasted, a riot of coconuttery and jamminess. This, our main image almost made us forget that Michael had discarded his equally stellar Chocolate Fondant. Seasonably changing small plate menus, grrr.
Elnecot, 41 Blossom Street, Cutting Room Square, Manchester, M4 6AJ. 07496 152373.