IT’S a giant culinary leap of faith from duck hearts in the Northern Quarter to crispy lamb’s testicles in Ancoats. Just as ToM admired the offaly jolly sense of adventure of the Bay Horse’s small plates offering, so we welcome the similar nose to tail (if a tad more sophisticated) focus at Elnecot.
Tucked away in that stretch of Blossom Street that rumbles with the clatter of new-build, this neighbourhood bar/kitchen is not quite geared yet to passing trade. Not that’s it’s aloof; on the contrary, there’s a natural warmth from open kitchen and amiable front of house that belies a slightly rigid industrial look.
Then again, in a district dubbed the UK’s hippest by TravelSupermarket, you wouldn’t expect anything less. The Elnecot ambience is softened by the orange upholstery glowing against the muted grey industrial chic of the rest and the windows let in an abundance of light.
But it is the food that really shines. Chef/co-owner Michal Clay divides his menu into five sections – Nibbles, Balls, Veg, Meat and Fish before an afters offering that features (from an earlier review) “the best chocolate fondant in living memory … an oozy, molten, cocoa solid heavy conquest of the senses”.
So, of course, we had to order it again and it was even better this time – and for just a fiver.
To kick off, though, we went for balls. The plan was to replay the much-admired smoked haddock arancini, but they’d run out. Still the wild-mushroom alternative (£5.50) was no disappointment,a perfect fit with its pearl barley base. Even better was another deep-fried small plate – those lambs testicles (£5.50), tender in the mouth, made silkier by a slick of green goddess sauce. We forgot to ask if it was a homage to Seventies telly fitness queen Diana Moran. Think sauce vierge with added sour cream.
The testicles vied with the pale ale braised ox cheek (£8) for the attention of our accompanying chihuahua; the latter dish, though cubed squash replaced the advertised parsnip puree, was still sticky and comforting, a sharp chimichurri pesto giving an underlying spice. Even stickier the glazed lamb ribs with a crunchy winter coleslaw (£7).
Perfect winter comfort food for all three of us. Two large glasses of Devils Corner Pinot Noir from Tasmania (£9.50 a go) hit the mark with its restrained alcohol and abundant fruit.
As an interlude from all the meatiness we’d also ordered a spiced pollock with cauliflower and apple (£7.50), sustainable fish, fresh tasting but quite bland. A £3.50 side of slow-roasted sweet potatoes felt redundant. Our fault in asking for it – small plate regimes do muddy the ordering process.
Our pud contrast to fondant, a pear and hazelnut crumble with custard (£5), suffered from the pear chunks being too firm, but a minor quibble. All we tasted was testament to fine raw materials handled with a classical simplicity.
Clay has come home from a peripatetic cheffing career, notably in Melbourne, Australia with a passion for pickling and fermenting and creating dishes to showcase locally sourced and sometimes foraged ingredients. The menu also champions interesting beers (Peanut Butter Stout from Nashville)and wines, including some superb English examples from Limney and 16 Ridges.
Even the name of the place makes a statement. In a city where Menagerie, Tattu and Impossible scream ‘look at me, it’s where it’s happening’ we think it’s properly cool to use the first recorded mention (1212) of the area now known as Ancoats as your signature.
Elnecot, 41 Blossom Street, Cutting Room Square, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AJ. 0161 237 1122. Open daily 12pm-11.30pm. Sunday brunch is exceptional value.