No surprise. The Ghost of Christmas Future in midsummer is now a restaurant old chestnut, booking offers skating in weeks before they start playing Slade in supermarkets.
What strikes me about this Salford hostelry’s turkey main, though, is the Cheshire-sourced bird will greet you in the form of a ballotine; so deboned, rolled and stuffed, in this case with chestnut and pancetta. Paxo’s a no-no. Evidence that of a ‘pub’ kitchen going the extra mile.
That has been the case ever since head chef Ben Chaplin decamped from 20 Stories to put his stamp on the food offering at the rescued eyesore off Trinity Way dual carriageway. A year on from its £1.4m reopening after two decades of desuetude, Ben has fulfilled all the promise of his first gastropub menu there.
On my return visit each plate looks pretty, with garnishes of edible flowers, but less is now more. Call it declutter. There is focus on big flavours and it’s exquisite and exciting. Like the exotic garden, so unexpected in such an urban setting.
That was a big selling point from the start, and it has flourished. It’s unlikely you’ll be out there for your Yuletide junket, even allowing for global warming. Still the glass-fronted extension to the Victorian pub core is as attractive a dining room as you’ll find in the city (Salford/Manchester).
So why is it not fuller midweek, happy hour aside? It’s an easy, gentrified stroll there these days and there’s ample parking nearby. Maybe it’s about perception. Special occasion but not regular trough?
That would be unfair – there are three mains at £17, while a lunch menu, available 12pm-6pm weekdays, offers a choice of six courses, all £12. Posh ham, egg and fries, fish and chips, Caesar salad, a vegan bowl at a decent price – nothing to scare the horses.
My neighbours were tucking into it appreciatively, but I couldn’t resist the à la carte. Two starters, one main, one dessert. One glass of Gavi and one of Chablis from an attractive, keenly priced wine list. All taken inside, among the ranks of poinsettia, rather than outside among the lush shrubbery.
From the new Summer Menu, I ate:
Shetland seared mackerel (£9) - Ben makes his own kimchi and a junipery fennel/red cabbage version joined with an umami-laden seaweed mayo to cut through the oiliness of spanking fresh mackerel.
Smoked ham hock and foie gras terrine (£12) - Classic technique to create a collage combining flaky substance and silkiness. The supporting cast: pickled girolles, quail egg and dots of piccalilli puree.
(I also got to taste the gazpacho, perfect for current weather, which a fellow Manchester Food and Drink Festival awards judge was sampling at another table – instant heritage tomato envy).
Olive oil poached line-caught turbot (£29) - ‘Fine dining’ lifts its lovely head. Firm as you’d expect turbot to be, buttressed by a coil of pappardelle ripiene encasing a Cornish crab mousse, the dish generously strewn with rainbow chard and brown shrimp.
Pear tarte tatin (£8) - The honeyed caramel notes of tonka bean combine with the apple rush of calvados in an ice cream born to be paired with a tatin at its torched best.
It was all such a treat. Share the news – the Black Friar deserves your devotion.
The Black Friar, Blackfriars Road, Salford M3 7DH. 0161 667 9555.
Tuesday to Thursday 12pm to 10pm
Friday and Saturday 12pm to 11pm
Sunday 12pm-10pm (featuring an extensive roast menu)