Manchester is widely accepted as the world’s first industrial city…but when did it all start for a semi-rural backwater where not much of national significance had happened since Gnaeus Julius Agricola’s Roman legionaries built their fort at Castlefield?
Well, how about 1761? That’s the year barges on James Brindley’s canal began transporting coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines around Worsley to fuel the nascent steam-driven cotton mills around Manchester.
At any rate that’s the thinking behind the naming of one of the city centre’s newest restaurant ventures. Enter Restaurant 1761 where the watchwords are fresh, seasonal, locally sourced, homemade, British food.
The mission statement of Restaurant 1761 and Lily’s Bar is to pay homage to Manchester’s great past, drawing inspiration from the Industrial Revolution and “that warm Mancunian spirit which it so notably represents” and to offer a modern take on classic British dishes. The entrance doors sport handles with Manchester bee motifs. This is the place.
The place is, in fact, the former home of Avalanche and before that, Lime, done out with chandeliers, elaborate drapes and retro shades of green and gold decor with bare wooden floor and tables and leather chairs and sofas.
But best not to take all the historical stuff too seriously. For Restaurant 1761 shares the space with Lily’s Bar downstairs, named not after my auntie Lily from Moston, who built Lancaster bombers during the war, but Madame “Lily” Bollinger who just happened to be, er, French. But hey, she came up with the most quoted anecdote of all time about drinking champagne – the one about drinking it when she’s happy, sad, alone, in company etc, etc…
Anyway, what would a Mancunian menu from the mid-18th Century look like? Pretty thin gruel I’m guessing, so the aforementioned “modern take on British classics” pairs lamb shank with polenta, which for most was probably an unknown quantity in 2001 never mind 1761.
1761’s menu offers fun snacks like pork scratchings with baked apple purée, popcorn cockles, and humous and flatbread, plus fresh oysters in three guises – Rockefeller, Old Fashioned and Margarita – and at lunchtimes majors on open sandwiches and salads.
The evening menu overlaps with the snacks, oysters and sides with the addition of conventional starters, mains and grills. For the most part dishes are traditional and hearty; folks with big appetites can open with baked haddock with salt and vinegar mash, pea purée and tempura sweet dill pickle; mushrooms on toast, or slow-cooked duck egg with charred asparagus, Parma ham and cobnuts. My salt cod Scotch egg with samphire and aioli (£6.50) was very well executed with the crisp fishy coating – a lighter take than conventional sausage meat – encasing a perfect runny egg. The salty tang of the samphire worked well with the cod and the aioli provided a proper garlicky hit.
Mrs K started with smoked duck breast (£7.50) which arrived sliced and arranged alongside a sweet-sour honey and goat’s cheese mousse sprinkled with chestnuts.
Main courses feature the aforementioned lamb shank with polenta listed with more typically British comfort-food favourites like corned beef hash with crispy bacon and egg; chicken and mushroom pie with baby cabbage; Manchester Three Rivers Gin battered haddock with beef dripping chips and Manchester “caviar” (mushy peas to non-Mancs); and bubble and squeak, though this last dish comes as a risotto with Parmesan and crispy egg.
From the grill options I chose chargrilled rib-eye steak (£24) which came exactly medium-rare as requested and served with a square of dauphinoise, mushroom duxelles and a mini pan of spicy, not-for-the-fainthearted peppercorn sauce; all very nicely done. Mrs K had braised beef short rib (£15), soft and full of rich beefy flavour, served with IPA-braised shallot and watercress purée. We shared sides of fine tenderstem broccoli with toasted almonds and top-notch beef dripping chips.
The wine list is short and sensible, yielding a good value Pays d’Oc viognier for £20, and I had a large scoop of rich, fruity Tenute Fiorebelli Cabaletta from Veneto (£8) with the steak.
Mrs K rounded off with an indulgent Manchester tart with Vimto and banana and coconut ice cream (£6.50) while I turned to Lily’s cocktail list with its amusing Manchester references. This Is The Place, for instance, is based on Three Rivers Gin and apricot liqueur; Hacienda features El Jimador tequila, and Enigma (presumably a reference to Alan Turing) uses Woodford Reserve bourbon. I voted for The Pankhurst (£9), wondering what the formidable Emmeline might have made of the mix of Finlandia Vodka, Cacao blanc, espresso and salted caramel. The old girl would have probably loved it.
For more information visit 1761mcr.co.uk or call 0161 714 0414.BOOK TABLE