In an innocuous looking pub on a busy Salford Street, sits The Blackfriar.
Even by the manager’s admission, the pub is in a strange place, on a main road and about as far away from a steady footfall as you can get.
Yet the gastropub has received several glowing reviews from esteemed food critics such as Jay Rayner.
And for good reason, as the unique blend of high-quality ingredients and heart-warming dishes hit the right notes as the cold weather closes in.
Inside, The Blackfriar is split into several guises: a cosy snug with a roaring fire, a mode gastro dining restaurant, the choir sanctuary upstairs, then a gorgeous plant laden glass atrium. There is also a suntrap veranda outside too.
Although maybe not in November.
We spoke to managing director Neil Burke who explained his vision when he took on the pub in Jan 2021 after it had sat derelict for years, damaged by fire.
After a £1.5m restoration project, the Black Friar reopened in August of 2021.
Neil said: “We were really looking to do something different and push the envelope. We didn’t just want to be another square box restaurant.
“Because of the different rooms, you can have a different experience every time you come. You can dine in the choir sanctuary upstairs, in the main restaurant, in the glasshouse or sit by the fire in the pub.
“You can have drinks outside in the summer. There’s a lot on offer here and hopefully we’ve covered all bases.”
The Blackfriar have launched their new autumn/winter menu under the Head Chef Ben Chaplin and we were lucky enough to get down and try it.
I started with the Scottish seared scallops with fruit pigs white pudding, pink lady apple puree (£15) which was a great opener, beautiful scallops that were cooked to perfection. The White pudding is a really nice touch and brings the dish together nicely with the apple puree that gives it a hint of tart.
Blackfriars has built quite a reputation for their pies – so I picked The Blackfriar Famous Pie with garnish (£17). It was gorgeous. A sizeable chunk of a dish packed to the rafters with chicken and mushroom. No doubt it’s a heavy hitter in their line up and one that is getting quite a reputation for itself around Manchester and beyond.
From January 1st for six weeks The Blackfriar will be running a special £10 pie menu, which runs until 6pm all week with daily changing fillings.
For pudding I had the 70% chocolate and salter caramel fondant with honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream (£10). Absolutely divine, melt in your mouth perfection and a perfect sweet to round off a great meal that hit all the right notes.
We sat in the main dining area, illuminated in low lighting with a nice hubbub accompanied by classic rock tunes. It is a relaxed dining setting and one you can feel at ease in after a glass of wine.
Neil suggested that the chemistry between him and head chef Ben Chaplain was one of the driving forces of the menu’s success.
Both working on different aspects of creating a successful restaurant they come together as greater than the sum of their parts.
Neil said: “We’ve got a great head chef here with Ben Chaplain. He’s got great pedigree and has worked in some great restaurants.
“This is his first opportunity to develop and write his own menu. If you think back to whenever anybody starts their career, it’s their first effort they want to really put their own stamp on, and I think he’s nailed it this time around.
“He’s been absolutely pumped, and is a taste perfectionist. He wants every plate to taste fantastic, and wants to see the best on every plate.”
Neil conceded that he was heavily focussed on how things looked because of their ‘weird’ location by a main road in Salford.
Because less people are walking by, it was ‘vital’ to present things well to ensure word of mouth and social media spread the good word about The Blackfriar.
He continued: “I am a firm believer that these days about 50% of eating out is about the food, and the other 50% is about the intangibles of the restaurant.
“The touch, the feel, the lighting and the settings. We’ve worked really hard to pull together the full package here.
“I’ve been working in food since I was 15 and I am very passionate about it. Ben works on how things taste, and I work on how they look and feel.
“Before we start serving something – I want to see what the food looks like on the plate, on the table, on a white table – a brown table – in the garden. It’s a constant search for perfection.
“I genuinely believe people’s minds are made up when they see the food for the first few seconds.”
The diversity of the Blackfriars experience makes it perfect for popping in for a pint, or having a hearty meal, or celebrating your Grandpa’s 80th.
It’s a very versatile venue with great food to warm your soul as the weather deteriorates in the winter.
We discussed the initial ‘confused identity’ of the pub when they were starting out and searching for their role in Manchester’s culinary scene.
Neil said: “I’ve never been a fine dining person, we opened the pub with a bit of a confused identity, we have pulled it back more recently giving a varied price point which appeal to varied budgets.
“At the end of the day, we’re a pub. We have heart and soul, an amazing set of waiting on staff who will give you honest recommendations.
“We don’t try to push anything on our patrons or rinse them out of every penny, but our staff will give you honest recommendations based on their opinions to try and tailor your experience here.”
The Blackfriar sources a lot of their food where they can locally, including meats from Frost Butchers in Chorlton. Fish is also sourced locally when possible.
Most of the ingredients are sourced from the North West of England, and if possible, from Lancashire.
I asked Neil to sum up his thoughts on The Blackfriar and pitch it to the uninitiated.
He said: “We are a premium pub with great tasting food which is sourced locally where we can.
“We offer service with genuine heart and soul in a relaxed and informal setting.
“You can come for just a drink, lunch, for a work event, or your nan’s 80th Birthday on a Saturday night.
“We’ve got something for every occasion and I think our menu and the settings here reflect that. There’s something for everyone at the Blackfriar.”
The Blackfriar is taking bookings for Christmas now – you can book a table by clicking here.
The Christmas Menu begins on November 2nd, starting at £27 per person for two courses.
They have also just opened a new private dining space, The Choirs Loft on the top floor of the pub.