In a month that’s seen Ancoats named the UK’s hippest district, it’s only right that my first I Love Manchester review of the year should be from there – and from one of the restaurants that’s brought something new to the city – Squid Ink.
The idea behind Anthony Barnes’ restaurant is simple – good food, cooked well. The venue is small – just 16 covers – and there is only one sitting. The menu is limited (though there are vegetarian options) and it’s all down to what’s fresh and available from local suppliers – including The Veg People, Butcher’s Quarter and even his own allotment in Preston.
The January menu is a ‘best of’, showcasing the best dishes of 2016. Six courses, all available with a wine pairing courtesy of Boutinot Wines (an extra £18 per person) for the princely sum of £30.
Yes, Squid Ink is a bit of a bargain.
Our first dish got us off to a great start. Crisped Serrano ham, roasted figs, peppery rocket, Pedro Ximinez sherry vinegar reduction and feta cheese. The sharpness of the feta brought out the sweetness of the figs, the bitter green pulling it back from being overly sweet and cutting through the rich crunch of the ham.
Our second course was almost my favourite. Almost. Sourdough bread from Pollen Bakery fried til crisp, served with soft creamy mozzarella, roasted peaches and a deliciously astringent dressing of fermented garlic, chilli, honey and lime which lifted the cheese. Again the plate was a delight of flavours and textures.
The salmon dish too a revelation, too. The salmon was cooked so very gently that it appeared to be raw, but was in fact softly cooked, buttery and rich. The dish was dusted with a tarragon powder and a roasted beetroot powder, and dotted with beetroot vinegar gel – the flavours of gravlax melting in your mouth.
To take us over the halfway point was a dish of carrots – the centre piece of which was a carrot that had been completely dehydrated, before being rehydrated with carrot juice and barbecued in brown butter, intensifying the sweet, bitter vegetal flavours and giving it a distinct crunch.
The hazelnut and carrot tuille was something I’d happily eat on a savoury or sweet dish. On the base of the dish was a carrot and brown butter emulsion, again emphasising the nutty notes, as did the hazelnut powder on top, whilst the coriander powder brought out more floral notes. Carrot five ways, that felt like an entire celebration of the vegetable.
Our final savoury dish was one for the meat eaters. Pork belly is cooked for five days, cured for 24 hours in molasses and salt, then cooked for three days, and pressed for a further 24 hours. It was served with a cider and elderflower sauce, butter barbecued potatoes and of course, a crunchy sliver of pork crackling. The pork was incredibly meaty but as soft as a pack of butter left out in the sun. The sweet floral and sour sauce cut through that richness, and it was all I could do to not lick the plate. But I was in company so I refrained.
What could top the pork dish? Creme Catalan. Sweet, soft, citrussy custard, a creme brulee top, sharp berries and a crumbly hunk of shortbread.
Stick a fork in me. Me and my tastebuds are done.
Squid Ink, 67 Great Ancoats St, Manchester M4 5AB