Every week we visit some of the best food pubs that Greater Manchester has to offer to give you the heads up for when you fancy a jaunt out of town.
Jump in the car, take the train, get your walking boots on, dig out the leathers, get on your bike (in your lycra if you must.) Whatever takes your fancy. Because sometimes no fancy restaurant can better show just how good our traditional British fare can be.
In the Cheesden Valley somewhere between Rochdale and Bury is the hamlet of Birtle, or Bircle as it was previously known. Natural power from Cheesden Brook was once used to power the many Georgian and Victorian textile mills located around this now conservation area. Its landscape of moors, rivers and rolling fields are popular with ramblers who descend on Ashworth Valley and beyond.
Julie Goodyear, better known as Bet Lynch from Corrie, the Rovers’ buxom, leopard-print clad landlady, was born in these parts. All of which brings me nicely to the place we are visiting today. By ‘eck chuck, it’s a good-looking beast.
From the outside, anyway. The Bird at Birtle is the Nutter family’s re-working of the old Bird I’th Hand. Apparently, Rodney and Jean Nutter bought the place as a Christmas present for their son, celebrity chef, Andrew. A generous present. I normally have to make do with some smellies and new socks.
The outside is a magnificent piece of architectural genius. The yellow West Pennine stone at the front in stark contrast to the modern top-to-bottom glass façade at the back. It’s quite imposing and also quite brilliant.
I wish I could be as complimentary once I get inside. It’s quite tastefully decked out, black ash, wooden floors, fairly modern but, unlike the outside, not in a very exciting way at all. Despite a couple of quirky touches with stuffed birds littering the corners and walls, it just doesn’t feel like a cosy pub. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a pub at all, but a very functional and family-driven restaurant. Which is no bad thing as it’s obviously popular in the area, and packed with large groups and families on our Sunday lunchtime visit.
The menu is a pared-down version of his first restaurant, Nutters, a lavish manor house up the road in Norden. But that’s not to say the quality is pared down. Far from. Seasonality and great produce are stamped all over this gastropub which has a firm grip on the local market. Its reputation brings destination diners from further afield also for its traditional yet progressive Lancashire food.
Sunday offers a set menu, with dishes available from the main menu as well as the expected Sunday roast – and at £22 for two courses/ £25 for three courses, it’s fantastic value. Alongside the locally sourced guest ales, is the well-considered wine list featuring some lesser known grapes. These would originally have been hand picked by Andrew’s father/sommelier Rodney, who sadly passed away in late 2016. But his influence is still evident, as the list remains very exciting for a pub.
Pea, Leek & Potato Soup, Artisan Bread (v)
Soups can be safe bet on a set menu, as was this one. A hearty and fresh thick soup bursting with local produce and summery flavours. A drizzle of truffle oil over the top, served with a good chunk of freshly-made bread. Smashing.
Creamy Garlic Mushrooms, Sourdough Toast (v)
Nothing to get too excited about but a decent, crowd-pleasing starter. Proportions needed a bit of tweaking as there was nowhere near enough of the toasted sourdough under the creamy mushrooms. They also seem to love this frisee lettuce garnish here with an abundance of the stuff over many of the plates firing out of the kitchen.
Traditional Roast Sirloin of Beef, all the trimmings
This roast sirloin of beef was absolutely fabulous. Served perfectly medium rare and juicy, you’d struggle to find an equally good piece of beef on any Sunday roast menu. And I should know. I’ve selflessly eaten my way through many of them for an earlier feature. The cauliflower cheese was equally good, but I wanted more. Great Yorkshire pudding and sticky stocky gravy too. My only criticism is that the roast potatoes could have been a bit crisper and fluffier. But otherwise a triumphant Sunday roast.
Fillet of Pork wrapped in Parma Ham, Black Pudding & Wholegrain Mustard Mash, Creamy Savoy Cabbage
Despite the dour brown appearance of this course, the taste was really good. Perfectly cooked pork and memorable mash with some lush cabbage. What’s not to like? A mention here must go to the wonderful red we drank with our lunch, a Spanish Equilibrio Monastrell (£22.50 bottle), which was invigoratingly full and fruity.
Chocolate Tart, Honeycomb & English Strawberries
The chocolate tart itself would keep any chocolate-lover happy, with great pastry on there too. Unfortunately, the English strawberries didn’t have nearly enough flavour, and the bit-too-crunchy honeycomb could take a tooth out.
Individual Lemon Meringue Pie, Tangy Curd, Fresh Raspberries
Again, excellent pastry, thin and buttery. A really pleasing and tangy pie that wasn’t too sweet or heavy. Of the two, I preferred this, and the raspberries were better than those strawberries.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, with great views out of those stunning floor-to-ceiling windows. The service was attentive and well-paced from the all-smiling team of lovely ladies, and at this price point we were more than happy. I’m not sure I’d go here as a local, but I’d dash back at the drop of a hat for that beef.
And for a family restaurant, it’s at the top of its game. It’s definitely alright cock, as Bet might say.
239, Bury and Rochdale Old Road, Birtle, OL10 4BQ