DON’T ever underestimate the amount of research ToM puts into its restaurant reviews. Take the opening gambit of our dinner in the upstairs dining room of the Edinburgh Castle. A trio of fresh shucked oysters with a Kilpatrick sorbet (£12), accompanied by a Small Island Negroni (£11).
Hallelujah. At that point we could have ascended to heaven without ordering starter, main or dessert. That would have been a mistake, of course.
Google Kilpatrick and Negroni. The piquant oyster dish, involving bacon and Worcester sauce is named after Colonel John C Kilpatrick, manager of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in Edwardian times, while the cocktail classic arose from Italian contemporary Count Negroni’s insistence at his fave Florence cafe on gin replacing soda in his ‘Americano’. The true creators, mind, were chef and bartender respectively, the gloriously monikered Ernest Arbogast (not to be confused with the detective stabbed to death in ‘Psycho’) and Fosco Scarselli (not the Mafia hitman).
Which brings us to Edinburgh Castle’s equally exotic Kiwi chef, Julian Pfizer, who beached up at NQ bar Cottonopolis to cook their Asian fusion small plate menu and is now doing his own very different thing in this splendidly restored Ancoats pub. Surely a star talent in the making.
There is something decidedly Antipodean about transforming the Kilpatrick recipe into a sorbet, cloaking and enhancing each oyster. The rest of the meal was less delicate, very modern British but equally huge on flavours.
This chef is daring to serve sample starters, mains that fill the plate and puds it’s hard to finish. None of that ‘we recommend three to four dishes – OK if we bring them out as and when they’re ready?’ nonsense.
Prices are ambitious (mains in the late twenties) for a room above a pub. But it’s a bit like The French Pub in Soho back in the day allowing Fergus Henderson to cut his teeth on nose to tail dining upstairs. You can always, at half the price, check out the EC’s more affordable pub menu downstairs, which flaunts wild rabbit faggots, pork scotch eggs with blck pudding and nduja, bacon chop and cockles with bone marrow jus.
Those dishes are all served in a saloon bar setting, albeit with a meagre cask ale accompaniment from just a couple of handpumps (the whisky selection compensates). The true gamble, though, is upstairs. The sleek restaurant proper is a serious proposition.
Maybe presentation isn’t a priority, though. Our first starter of ox tongue (£12) comes as a crescent of dense, savoury flesh dotted with cubes of cauliflower, braised onions and a ‘Gribiche’. In old Norman gribiche means a ‘bad woman’ and this mustardy, eggy sauce is a wickedly classic French accompaniment to Langue de Boeuf.
Suddenly it feels more Lyon than Cote d’Ancoats. So a Southern Rhone red is in order. Except our choice, Morgan ‘Cotes du Crow’s’, comes from Monterey in California and the time-honoured blend of Syrah and Grenache is tempered by a dash of Tempranillo (because they can do it).
Proof of operations manager Gethin Jones’s cocktail credentials is his Japanese-inspired The Principles List at stablemate Cottonopolis but his wine nous is in evidence on the EC menu where his whites stem from luminaries such as Canada’s Norman Hardie, Pieropan for Soave, Kiwi legend Tinpot Hut (Grüner Veltliner) and Devon’s own Sharpham (Pinot Gris). The reds too are equally tempting; the £45 Morgan, a deep purple hit of spicy cherry fruit, did us proud across the meal.
Our other starter, glazed veal sweetbreads (£13), was perhaps swamped by an unprepossessing creamy swamp incorporating parmesan pickled walnut and chicory but the earthy, slightly bitter combo worked surprisingly well.
And so to Beeswax Aged Beef (£30). This natural coating protects food during prolonged dry ageing, helping to prevent oxidation of fat and moisture loss. Subsequently his beef, which comes with alliums, bone marrow, oxtail and tomato, has been aged for long weeks. Result? A rich, tender experience, but trumped as a main by, across, the table, a dish of poached halibut (£28). The treatment is sumptuously rich with Jersey cream, marrow and oscietra caviar in the mix, compensatory acidity coming from verjus vinegar.
It’s a dish that somehow typifies a lavishly thought out menu with ambitions above its current station, but what’s wrong with aiming for the stars? A dish we didn’t order paired roasted duck with black quinoa, umeboshi, young leeks and lovage. It makes you want to come back and explore the whole menu. On our initial experience puddings don’t quite live up to the rest (a blackberry pavlova disappointed), but these are early days for Pfizer and this is an exciting work in progress.
Edinburgh Castle, Henry Street and Blossom St, Manchester M4 5AW.