IDEALISM is a precious commodity. One to be treasured in a world where food can be as fake as the news. The Creameries has set itself a standard as outlined by co-owner Soo Wilkinson prior to opening: “We want to be a place where everybody can come and enjoy what we offer, and maybe find new ways of engaging with food, drink and the local community.”
That local community is Chorlton – a neighbourhood, home to Unicorn and Out of the Blue, more ripe than most for such ideals. And yet the walk along Wilbraham Road to the beautifully renovated old dairy premises offers a procession of tawdry fast food joints.
Once inside the Creameries their take on the Aperol Spritz immediately restores spirits.
It’s a delicious combination of natural Contratto Apertif and biodynamic Col Fondo prosecco confirms a drinks policy in tune with their dedication to sourcing the best British cheeses (from Settle’s acclaimed Courtyard Dairy), home churning butter, making their own sourdough bread (baker Sophie Yeoman) and creating lunch and supper menus from scratch, featuring locally grown vegetables, ethically sourced fish and seafood, and wild meat.
It’s all a big ask, particularly of the best known of the co-owning trio – chef Mary-Ellen McTague charged with sustaining those ever-shifting menus. This isn’t Aumbry Mark II. It’s more akin to the ‘thinking on your feet’ demands of Real Junk Food Manchester, where she was head chef after her acclaimed Prestwich restaurant closed.
The three years since Aumbry have liberated Fat Duck trained Mary-Ellen from the fine dining mindset. On the evidence of some dishes that followed the spritz her palate and technical skills remain razor sharp.
Yet, as is the plan, it is the simple snacks that especially charm. Freshest of pickles (above) , that intense in-house butter and Sophie’s gloriously springy bread all were a perfect fit for the natural wines supplied by James and Katie at love + labour.
A fruity Austrian Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from Judith Beck had enough acidity to handle a starter of home smoked mackerel, beetroot pickle, mustard cream and a bizarre sounding but lovely tranche of beetroot focaccia (£5).
By the time the next small plates arrived we were on to another Austrian wine, this time a red from the Zweigelt grape, the mega-savoury Fux (£40 a bottle), which we stayed with for the meatier mains.
Mary-Ellen’s stint rejuvenating the Manchester Art Gallery Cafe was very cheese toastie-focused and a raclette-like dish pops up here at the Creameries. Bluebell heritage potato skins stuffed with Blue Lanark cheese and a leek “fondue” with a tangle of sauerkraut on the side (£6) is perfect comfort food. Alongside roast wild sprue asparagus with ramson-laced yoghurt (£5) is altogether leaner.
Off the snack blackboard cauliflower cheese beignets (£4) are creamy treats, matched for gorgeousness by earthy roast oyster mushrooms on a bed of celeriac ‘noodles’ (£6).
There were also three mains, priced between £14 and £16. We had two. Rabbit stew with clams and white cabbage was over creamy and lacked definition as a dish, while seared wood pigeon had a fine gaminess but, as so often, an obstinate texture. On the plate with its roasting juices and stern chard leaves it looked ever so road kill.
Here you felt the adrenalin rush of a kitchen covering many bases had caught up with them a little. Similarly because bread, dairy and cheese is the bedrock of the whole project their presence can occasionally be overpowering.
I write this as a first time diner there who spent the night in anticipation of the cheese course – four UK cheeses sourced from arguably our finest affineurs, Courtyard. Priced at a bargain £6 and accompanied by a pear and apricot chutney and grilled sourdough this is a reason in itself to hotfoot it to Chorlton.
The quartet were, for record’s sake (I’m sure the choice will change with each delivery down the A65): Sinodun Hill, a new goat cheese from Oxfordshire, delicate and almost grassy, triple cream Herefordshire stalwart Finn, Felstone, a lemony, Wensleydale style hard cheese and Young Buck, a raw milk blue cheese from Northern Ireland. Every time I visit Courtyard Dairy I am torn between this and Stichelton for a blue for the cheese board. It’s that good.
Mary-Ellen’s puds have always been exquisite and seasonal. She surpassed herself this time with poached rhubarb on a rose water cream, topped with an olive oil biscuit (£6).
A lovely, matching Monbazillac, so much more than the poor man’s Sauternes, was further proof that love + labour, whose retail base is in Oxford Road pop-up hub Hatch, are bringing something fresh to the city’s wine scene.
All the artisan elements that make up The Creameries package promise great things to come once it has settled into its groove. It’s going to be exciting watching it grow.
The Creameries, 406 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 0SD, 0161 312 8328. To book visit this link.