Alston Bar & Beef has been in Manchester for a couple of years now.
Specialising in steak and gin – two of our all-time favourite things – it might be slightly off the beaten track at the back of the Corn Exchange, but it’s well worth seeking out.
Focusing on high quality, hand-cut meat for over 70 years now, all the steaks are dry-aged on the bone for 35 days to guarantee premium flavour and texture.
All their meat is painstaking sourced from independent family butchers John Gilmour & Co Ltd, who are based in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders.
The majority of their gin, on the other hand, is infused in house. Using their own juniper gin for a base, the Alston team take great pleasure in concocting new infusions that range from fruity to spicy.
Displayed from large glass containers suspended behind the bar, at any one time you can expect they’ll have at least four or five varieties for you to choose from.
We’ve come on a mid-week afternoon to try their newly launched set menu, and on arrival are presented with their latest development: a pineapple and coconut infusion.
A great start to our visit, it’s vibrant and summery with just a hint of acidity.
Whilst it’s pretty quiet in the restaurant, the overall vibe is relaxed and laid-back. From the moment we step in the door the staff are just wonderful: warm, friendly and impeccably attentive.
We start with some nibbles whilst we sip on our frankly ginormous G&Ts, smearing generous lashings of Alston’s homemade garlic butter onto sourdough toast and picking enthusiastically from a very appealing dish of olives and pickles – significantly elevated thanks to the addition of preserved lemons.
It’s a decent portion and stays on the table throughout our lunch, as we go back to pick between courses. They’re just too tasty not to.
Next up, the gin’s are gone and we’re scouring the wine menu. As you’d expect for a steak restaurant of Alston’s calibre, there are some really great choices here.
Normally we’d be eyeing up the reds, but today, dining from a menu that looks to be the essence of lightness and summer, we’re drawn to the whites.
Liking the look of the Verdejo Quintaluna, which its producers bottle unfiltered to preserve its delicate aromas, we ask for a carafe for the table. Sadly, though, it’s unavailable so we switch to their Picpoul de Pinet instead.
Fresh and packed with notes of lemon and green apple, there are concentrated flavours here but still the wine retains a light and fresh feel overall. If you like a Pinot Grigio or Muscadet, but fancy something a little bit more interesting, then this is the wine for you.
After browsing through the menu, which pitches Alston steak favourites against a selection of brand new summer dishes, in the name of fairness we opt for a little bit of both.
To start, we go for the shaved root veg salad and cucumber gazpacho, the latter of which comes topped with a torched fillet of mackerel and sliced heritage ‘ceviche’ tomatoes.
The salad is all ribbons of raw carrot, heritage beetroot, and mooli – an Asian radish with a mild flavour. Served with a sweet orange dressing, little nuggets of soft creamy ricotta and toasted pumpkin seeds, it’s summer on a very pretty plate.
The gazpacho, meanwhile, is refreshing but would be somewhat nondescript on its own we suspect. It’s the torched mackerel here that makes this dish special, its strong flavour cutting through wonderfully.
Moving on to the mains, and we’re keen to pit Alston’s signature steaks against their new summer plates.
From the two steak options given, we go for the 227g D-rump: a lean, finely-textured cut characterised by its proportionate balance of fat and tenderness.
Rump is known for its attractive colour, and we’re pleased to say that when it arrives on the table it doesn’t disappoint. A perfect dark pink inside, it melts in the mouth. Heaven.
The steak comes with skinny fries and peppercorn sauce on the side, but we’re also tempted by their apple and spring green slaw so ask for a side of that too. Sweet and full of spice, a hint of cinnamon on the apples feel out of place, but it works.
For the new dishes we opt for the smoked haddock fillet risotto alongside Alston’s take on a summer chicken roast, the latter of which comes highly recommended by our server.
Served with lashings of gravy, the chicken comes out with perfectly crispy skin on a bed of roasted sweet potato puree, grilled baby gem and edamame beans, which make the plate look pretty but feel like a slightly odd touch nonetheless.
The haddock risotto, meanwhile, is an absolute treasure.
The fish is perfectly cooked, managing to be both flaky and meaty at the same time, and the mild flavour of the foraged wild garlic adds something special to the risotto.
Finished with a smear of asparagus and watercress puree, and topped with radish sprouts, it goes down a treat.
So, what’s the verdict?
Often set menus can feel a bit staid, but here we’re pleasantly surprised.
The addition of some new summer dishes ahead of the release of their new a la carte menu is a nice touch, giving Alston’s regulars a sneak peek at what’s to come over the summer months.
And priced at just £15 for two courses, or £18 for three, it offers a sizeable saving for savvy diners. It’s a thumbs up from us.
Set menu subject to change. Available between 12pm and 6pm Monday to Thursday, and 12pm and 4pm on Fridays and Saturdays.