SMALL plates ought to be a boon for a reviewer. A busy procession of different flavours offering a multi-sensory kaleidoscope of a restaurant’s capabilities makes for an equally comprehensive write-up. In theory yes, but then there’s the dreaded alert from your server: “Dishes will come from the kitchen as and when they’re ready.” Cue, fish, fowl, meat, veg, they all come at once, result: unsatisfying overload.
Elnecot, a firm favourite since it set the benchmark for Ancoats bar/kitchens just two year ago, has not been blameless in this regard. It seems now they’ve become aware the pattern has become jaded and they’ve rejigged the menu into small plates and big plates, notably featuring steak from aged dairy cattle. Sharing doesn’t have to be croquettes, meatballs, arancini and disco cabbage. Step forward a 1kg rib-eye steak on the bone, more than enough for the two of you at £60.
We’re told Elnecot share the same meat supplier as a more ambitious neighbour, whose recent reviews have gone off the Richter scale. While their trendy dairy cattle beef might come from Spain’s furthest reaches, Elnecot’s hails from Yorkshire. We couldn’t have been happier with it.
Not that we went for the rib-eye. That would have left no room for small plates that, judiciously ordered, were also proof of a joyously rejuvenated food offering. Important for an indie business with so many rival arriving since the summer of 2017.
Our sirloin (£22) with a side of sexy greens (second cousin to disco cabbage, still dancing down the menu) offered all you could hope from a retired milker. The good pasture she’s been released on shows in the luscious quality of the fat attached. Medium rare, the steak has give but a wonderful intensity.
To accompany, it needed nothing more than the smooth, herby house red from Greece, Strofila Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko, whose white stablemate, White Dot also costs £25 a bottle. Both are available by the glass – as are most wines at Elnecot.
The lemony white, an aromatic blend of Peleponnese indigenous grapes Moschofilero and Roditis, had accompanied our trio of (quite hefty) small plates.
Devon brown crab meat on toast with a slice of lemon (£9) was simplicity itself, the product of immaculate sourcing. Wild mushroom pearl barley arancini (£6) was the kind of dish chef/patron Michael Clay has always done so well, crisp frying, soft centre, given punch by a fresh chutney, in this case of beetroot and fennel seed.
Pickling and fermentation have always been at the heart of the Elnecot offering and a tangle of savoy kimchi is a perfect fit for pork belly (£7.50, main image), corn (sweetness) and hazelnuts (texture) completing a surprisingly delicate assembly.
Like the belly, slow-cooked ox cheek has been a Clay staple. On the new menu it’s elevated to big plate status and at £14 costs nearly twice the price. In itself, it’s surprisingly bland but is given oomph by the supporting cast of a classical onion soubise, fermented carrot and, coup de gras, a bone marrow crumb.
An accompanying side of Good Golly, That’s Cauli (£4.50) upheld the place’s playful veggie affectation. Such a nicer title than ‘Cauli done three ways’.
Small and big plated out, we resisted the temptation of their exemplary chocolate fondant from a dessert list that is less revamped.
Conclusion: impressive. Once again this is the Elnecot that made such a big impression when, after Rudy’s it pioneered the Ancoats scene. Only two summers ago. Hard to credit.
Elnecot, 41 Blossom Street, Cutting Room Square, Manchester, M4 6AJ. 07496 152373. Now open seven days a week again.