LIKE the old pub tease ‘free beer tomorrow’ ‘new chef, new menu’ is a mantra critics have to confront. Sometimes though you must review what’s on your plate, not promises, and say why it has disappointed. The kitchen at Folk & Soul didn’t open until 1pm when we were there for lunch; perhaps the latest incumbent was still getting his bearings before radical change to come.
Still Matt Nickson’s gorgeous revamp of the former Odd Bar on Thomas Street is not the only restaurant tapping into the vegan vibe that has been inconsistent (see our Allotment on Lloyd Street review) with staffing a recurrent issue.
When jazzman Matt opened Folk & Soul last spring he was a true plant-based pioneer despite not being a vegan himself. Everything else about the place was. Even the paint and wallpaper were plant-based, ask for a latte and you were warned it came with soya milk.
Amazingly those dyed in the wool Manc brewers Joseph Holt’s were crafting bespoke vegan bottled beers for the bar using natural finings. They weren’t a success with punters and have been discontinued.
No longer there either are dishes, showcasing fresh veg and strong flavours, I enjoyed early on – the likes of roasted artichoke hearts marinated in satay sauce with a beansprout slaw or cauliflower skordalia, combining roast cauli puree and roast heritage tomato puree with capers and thyme focaccia.
In their place this time arrived a plethora of fried morsels, all at once, the bane of small plate reviewing. We tackled the £10 fritto misto platter first, reckoning that it would suffer most from the batter casing cooling. The batter was made Guinness’s Hop House 13 lager, certified vegan; a tempura batter would surely have been crisper. Red peppers handled the treatment better than the mushrooms.
A trio of bruschette (£7) also featured wild mushrooms, here very cold as if they had just been released from the fridge. I’m not a fan of vegan ‘cheeses’ and cashew ricotta topping didn’t help this dish, either.
Back to the deep frier and falafels on a bed of baba ganoush (£5) were much more satisfying. Maybe a touch more spice needed, which was also the case with an artichoke ‘no crab’ cake, whose filling accommodated potato and ground chick peas (£6.50).
Arancini, perhaps too similar an order, were made from a beetroot risotto I remembered fondly from a previous visit. Vegan feta was supposed to provide the appropriate cheesy stickiness but it wasn’t quite enough in a meal that relied too much on the frier if you didn’t go down the cold platter or nachos route.
There is much to recommend Folk & Soul – notably a smarter than average NQ fit-out, super jazz soundtrack naturally, a decent drinks list and a fine gig space upstairs, where Belly Laugh, a free comedy night, is launching on Tuesday, January 8. But the food aspect has gone stale. Over to you, new chef.
* Since our visit the menu has been refreshed, as promised, with certain dishes replaced.
Folk and Soul, 30-32, Thomas St, Manchester M4 1ER.