Some might say Prestwich is an up-and-coming northern town. But they’d be wrong because, in my humble opinion, Prestwich has already arrived.
That’s partly thanks to the plethora of independent places to eat, drink and shop. But it’s mainly due to the village’s unique sense of civic pride.
People of Prestwich are fiercely proud of where they live and their community and seem to put any new opening on a giant pedestal even if it’s a bit, well, lacking.
New Paloma bar and kitchen is the latest opening in Prestwich, and I can confirm that it’s definitely NOT the emperor’s new clothes.
It’s been opened by local lad Andy Pope who’s spent several summers in Spain (circa 10 years) working at events, bars and restaurants. “And hosting private dinner parties at multi-million pound villas in the hills of Mallorca,” he tells us.
Andy is a bit of an industry legend. He’s well known in the hospitality industry for creating many a menu and consulting with venues to prepare them for their soft launch period before he swans off into the horizon to pastures new – often leaving a lasting impression behind him.
The time has finally come for Mr Pope to use his talents and passion for his own gain in his home town. Popey is a man endearingly dancing on a fine line between ingenious and insanity. But behind all the eccentricity, he’s also a man who really does appreciate the provenance of absolutely everything he does.
A man of extremes, who won’t accept mediocre. “When I eat out, I either want a McDonalds or a Michelin Star,” he says, “I don’t want anything in between. I won’t go to a Beefeater and have fish and chips.”
The word “Paloma” derives from the Latin word for “dove”, which is commonly known as a symbol of peace. It also translates to ‘female pigeon’ in Spanish. Apt, because while there are no doves in Prestwich, there are plenty of pigeons.
Paloma bar and kitchen opened its doors on Prestwich precinct last week. The long narrow space occupies two glass-faced units opposite Costa Coffee and, ahem, BetFred. The interior is quintessentially Spanish-style, washed with a blue and white tapestry colour palette with subtle accents of pearl pink which is celebrated with a fabulous hanging flower arrangement.
For me, Spanish-style tapas bars and restaurants are mainly about the wine accompanied by food as an afterthought to line your stomach and keep you from falling off your chair. That could just be a Salford perspective, but you can’t drink acidic white wine on an empty stomach, can you?
Besides, I’ve always admired the way Mediterranean cultures enjoy their food. They generally graze for hours with friends and family, as opposed to the common British way of eating and drinking as much as you can in 90 minutes before another drink.
Andy tells me that “tapa” means “a cover” or “a lid” – and this detail tallies up with my quick research of tapas origin stories… Traditionally in Spain, bartenders would serve beer and wine with a saucer on top to keep the flies out of the liquid.
That gesture escalated into putting some bread or olives or even a bit of ham on the saucer, which then became a more generous small plate, and so on. The rest, as they say, is history.
These days, we don’t need bartenders to keep the flies out of our drinks. But even so, the culture of serving savoury snacks with drinks is something to be celebrated, and it might as well be small plates of food made the best it can be.
“The suburbs are where it’s at,” says Andy.
“Paloma was supposed to be launched in Mallorca this year, but COVID scuppered the plan. So I thought why not bring the Mediterranean to Manchester, instead!?
“I want this to be a place where you’re not rushed by three or four dishes coming out all at once. I want people to enjoy each dish at their freshest – order a few more whenever you want. This is an authentic Mediterranean experience with beautiful food and drinks at accessible prices.”
To help the dream work, Andy Pope has persuaded some of the finest talent from the city to join him in Danny “Biggsy” Bigg-wither and Mike Jennings, who have been appointed as Operations Manager and Executive Head Chef respectively.
Danny, best known for his flamboyance behind some of the city’s best bars, as well as being GM at The Liquor Store off Deansgate and Cottonopolis in the Northern Quarter, seems enthused about his new role in the suburbs:
“I like it out here, and working with Andy is always fun! We’ve brought the city centre experience to Prestwich.
“I love being on this side of the bar in a more customer-facing position. Especially in a new world where customers can’t come to the bar – I love to interact with them on the restaurant floor.”
Biggsy offers us his exclusive new Old Fashioned creation – Woodsford Reserve, fig liqueur, brown sugar syrup, Aztec chocolate bitters and Ximenez sherry – as he sits us down before we talk to Mike Jennings, who’s just wrapping up in the kitchen.
Chef Mike Jennings is no stranger to suburban restaurants. His first solo venture was the two AA Rosette and Michelin-recommended restaurant Grenache just over in Worsley – before it closed in 2017 only because of issues with the building and the landlord. Mike then served some time at Bacchus Restaurant & Champagne Bar in Prestbury Village before working with MasterChef winner Simon Wood at his brand new restaurant on First Street in the city.
Following a few fantastic years with Wood, he accepted the position of head chef at 20 Stories. Unfortunately, the role at the city’s highest restaurant was short-lived due to the stress of the pandemic.
Today, he’s a business partner and exec head chef of Paloma, and it seems his time running his own restaurant before some time at city centre places has given him a lot of empathy for how stressful the food and beverage business can be.
“It was just time for me to do my own thing again,” says Mike.
“Running Grenache taught me a lot – you do have to be hands-on, you do have to be everywhere, and you do have to get stuck in whether it’s cooking or moving the furniture around – but the rewards are amazing. I’ve stripped it all back to basics. I’m cooking good, simple, classic food without any of the bullsh*t.
“I know Prestwich, and I love the suburban feel because you get to know your customers and build a really unique restaurant relationship whereby you get to know people’s tastes and preferences and get them to try new things.
“Andy’s vision [with Paloma] has got the foundation to be something really special as a brand, and it’s really exciting to be a part of. It also works well for me personally with my work-life balance. I get to spend more time with my family as well – I get to have days off without the panic and expectation.”
All the food at Paloma is sourced from exclusive Spanish, Italian and other Mediterranean artisan producers and delicatessens all who have won many Great Taste Awards. And there’s clearly no skimping on quality here.
Warm, chewy sourdough comes with sweet, fruity Arequipa olive oil and Pedro Ximenez (PX) aged sherry vinegar, while Manzanilla olives from Seville are marinated with zingy lemon and fragrant rosemary.
Crisp, golden croquetas have been painstakingly, authentically made with bechamel and salty Aragón serrano ham, and tender lamb meatballs have been doused in the richest of tomato sauces.
And meat lovers won’t want to miss the onglet (or hanger) steak, often referred to as the butchers cut because of its exceptional flavour. It’s cooked perfectly pink and dressed with a punchy, Hulk-green salsa verde.
There’s also plenty of fish, shellfish and vegetarian dishes on the menu, such as salt cod croquetas delicately smeared with saffron aioli; grilled hake served on a heavy bed of patatas a lo Pobre; or the traditional Spanish favourite, patatas bravas buried in spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli.
“Never mind the steak onglet,” says Andy, “who’s leaving the last prawn or the last meatball on the plate? Nobody.”
Leave room for the creamiest creme Catalan, smooth and ambrosial with a buttery orange and olive oil shortbread – or sweet, fluffy churros balls with chocolate sauce to dip at will.
The trio behind Paloma restaurant have brought a mouthwatering taste of the Mediterranean to Prestwich. They have a ‘click and collect’ and a ‘finish at home kit’ coming soon, and they have ambitious plans to expand into a deli and cookery school, too.
Prestwich Metrolink is no more than a two minute walk away and with a taxi rank (Magnum White Line) on their doorstep, there’s no excuse to drive.