Glaswegian steakhouse Alston Bar & Beef has been a fixture in Manchester’s Corn Exchange for two-and-a-half years now.
Since opening in the heart of the iconic Grade II listed building, which was once a hub for Manchester’s merchant trade, it’s gained quite a following amongst local foodies who come in their droves to enjoy its premium beef offering and array of cold-compound gins.
It’s split into two parts, with an extensive restaurant on one side and a secret gin speakeasy on the other. Because who wants to trek through the cold for after-dinner drinks when you can just go next door?
Today, though, we’re here for the restaurant. In honour of the new year (and new decade), Alston has just rolled out a brand new menu – and we were fortunate enough to be some of the first in the city to try it.
New dishes include classic Scottish favourites like haggis (served pakora-style with tomato chilli jam and a lime yoghurt), chicken and leek puff pastry pie, and cullen skink – a thick Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, butter, milk and onions.
Arriving on a cold Thursday evening in mid-January, we are surprised to descend into a busy and bustling restaurant. Not because Alston doesn’t deserve it, more so because it’s in a relatively hard-to-find location and, also, it’s January. A month widely acknowledged as one of the worst for trade in hospitality.
Guided into one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms, separated from the main floor by sliding frosted glass screens, we swiftly make a start on one of their famous in-house gins: a dark berry infusion served with premium tonic.
And so it begins. We start with a glass of Verdejo and a hefty trio of oxtail croquettes. Taken from the tail of the cow, it’s not the prettiest cut but is considered one of the best for braising and stewing – making it ideal for this particular dish.
The golden nuggets come out warm and crisp. Once broken in half, a mass of shredded oxtail meat is revealed. Plonked atop generous dabs of celeriac puree, with a hearty pile of pickled red onions in the centre and a scattering of fresh horseradish, they make for a punchy and filling entree.
Next, the main event: a 300g cut of top-quality sirloin served medium-rare. The Montague grill’s ceramic plate gives it a healthy char, but once we slice into it we’re presented with perfectly pink flesh.
It’s joined on the plate by a copper saucer of herby and sweet Béarnaise and a mug piled high with proper chunky triple-cooked chips. Paired with a glass of Finca La Florencia Argentinian malbec, we couldn’t be happier.
To finish, we settle on a trio of crème brûlées: one classic, one coffee-flavoured and a dark fruit concoction. A sweet treat to end the evening on.
Full to the brim, we make our way out into the wintry night with significantly more cheer than we arrived with. It’s not hard to see why, even in January, the place is buzzing.
A great contender for steak in the city. Next time, we’ll be back for the gin.