ONE national food reviewer has just sung the praises of Gary Usher’s neighbourhood bistro template: “No, there really is nothing extraordinary about any of these dishes. There is no story. Except for the much bigger one, which is this: the health of a restaurant culture is not defined by a baby-handful of glittering temples to gastronomy flogging platefuls of overwrought ambition and memories. It’s defined by places like Kala quietly feeding you well.”
ToM applauds Jay Rayner’s verdict in The Observer, not just because we like Kala too, but because his theory makes a strong case for newcomer Street Urchin, a slef-styled English market diner, in Ancoats, which we hope he’ll find time to visit when he’s next in these parts.
This is a true indie operation. Co-owners Kevin and Rachel Choudhary, chef and front of house respectively (with a changing blackboard of specials) in a nod to the bistro tradition. have ploughed their own cash into it. No high profile Kickstarter campaigns here, though they do bring with them a strong fanbase from their seven years at The Victoria pub in Altrincham.
What delights us is their commitment to serving fish. When we dropped in this week the board offered whole gilled sea bass with ginger and caper butter, mussels in creamy cider with crispy black pudding, queen scallops with bacon, broad bean and tomato salad rich seafood bisque.
The latter is a genuine signature dish. For £15 you’d expect more than a simple seafood soup and yes, it is a stew teeming with mussels, squid, white fish, some of it battered. We adored it first time round but on this visit we couldn’t resist the straight-up, battered fish dish of the day, haddock (£13) with mushy peas and, separating it from the chippy standard, salsa. The batter delicate, the fish properly steamed inside and a glass of a citrussy Italian white. If you’re feeling flush splash out on a New Zealand Riesling, only available by the bottle at £43 that’s stunning.
We preceded it with a rock oyster or two, beautifully presented with all the trimmings, then a (quite substantial) small plate of classically oat-coated herring with a potent blob of horseradish cream and piquant pickled veg (£13). Mussels are constants on the menu, served like the bisque with served with their homemade white bread.
Kevin is an experienced chef, whose grounding was back at the Chop Houses under the legendary Robert Owen Brown and there’s a lovely economy about the open kitchen. Thought too ha gone into the layout of the 40-cover diner on the ground floor of the quirky brick Astley Building apartment block on the corner of Great Ancoats and Port Street.
You could easily walk past on Great Ancoats. ‘Street Urchin is discreetly scrawled in neon on one of the double height windows. Inside there’s a riot of greenery, ferns dangling from buckets, herbs on every table, bowls of lemons, jars of home-made preserves. Table tops are made from sustainable woods, lampshades are mix and match retro.
Kevin’s pescatarian instincts hark back to his fisherman father but there’s a strong meat presence, using affordable cuts, on the other blackboard (ox cheek poutine perhaps or lamb belly spring rolls). The current menu features citrus-roasted poussin and creamy rabbit and ham hock pie.
We just recommend you to support a restaurant with a genuine affinity(sic) for fish. Now you don’t have to trek out to Chorlton (The Oystercatcher) or Marple (The Fisherman’s Table) to tackle some seriously well-handled seafood. Street Urchin, we’ve fallen for you hook, line and sinker.
Street Urchin, 84 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester M4 5BG. 07470 804979.