For me decor can be impressive, and you always get the impression that the food should follow, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case, what is the point of spending thousands creating the hype and then let the customers down with the product, on the other hand who cares about the space and the décor when the product is all about what sells the place.
I like tradition, pubs and bars are a traditional way of life to the british, just as tapa’s bars are to the Spanish, there is something homely and welcoming about a bar with a log fire, wooden tables, beer mats, jukebox, pool table, darts and a bar stocked with ales, pickled eggs, salted peanuts and pork scratchings. But they needed to move ahead, away from Scampi and chips, Gammon steaks with pineapple ring and fried egg. Whilst the environment hasn’t moved on, the food had to.
There have been a number of attempts at the Gastro pub in Manchester, The Ox on Liverpool Road being one example. But it was The Bridge on Bridge Street that really stood out when it opened a number of years ago. Lead by chef Robert Owen Brown, it was a classic example of a traditional pub environment, taken over and taken to a whole new level simply by offering fantastic food. However, rather ignominiously in 2006, Robert’s relationship with The Bridge came to an end and The Bridge has since reverted back to being just another bog standard pub
Robert has now moved on. After working at the Lord Nelson in Stoneclough he is now back in business in Manchester. Having taken over The Beer House, of Rochdale Road, Robert and his business partner Mark Motram have now re-opened it as The Angel. And he’s back with a vengeance, along with his Bridge signature dish, Spam Fritters.
It was a Thursday lunchtime when my friend and I paid a visit. The majority of any investment must have been spent in the kitchen for the bar looked like it hadn’t had any money spent on it in the last 30 years. However at least it was clean and unspoilt and I’m sure there has been a lot of hard work put in to transform the place given that it has been shut down for the last two years.
The laid up tables in one half of the bar were mainly taken and we asked if we could eat in the main bar area. This was no problem and our table was duly set up. The service was attentive and all the well presented staff seemed in good spirits. I asked how things were going and the waitress seemed exited at the amount of publicity and good reviews they had received.
The menu is traditional British fare with a contemporary twist - the aforementioned Spam fritters making this recognisable as a Robert Owen Brown menu. The blackboard displays the daily specials such as another Bridge classic; Ireland black pudding potato cake with a soft poached egg and tangy tarragon sauce. The main menu offered options including rabbit casserole and line-caught sea bass.
I chose the Lancashire Hot pot at a very reasonable £9 and Andy opted for the Fish, chips and mushy peas at an even more reasonable £7. The hot pot was a joy, and as a Lancashire lad, I’m qualified to comment. The succulent chunks of lamb, whole baby carrots and celery sat beautifully with a gravy that was flavoured with rosemary. A bowl of pickled red cabbage was served on the side, accompanied with 2 thick wedges of bread to make sure none of that gravy went to waste.
Andy’s fish was battered to perfection, crisp and greaseless with the steamed fish cooked to perfection, homemade mushy peas (no green colouring here!!) and of course the chips. Now, I have a problem with chips in restaurants. They must be one of the easiest things to make and surely every young chef during their training must be taught how to make the perfect chip. I am fed up with seeing this simple dish described as, ‘home made’, ‘hand cut’, ‘traditional’, ‘fluffy’ or ‘fat cut’ only to end up with some frozen product that neither tastes nor looks like the menu’s description. Any restaurant worth its salt, should make their own chips. It’s simple; take good quality potato, peel, cut, fry on a low heat, drain, cool, fry on a high heat to crisp, drain and season, simple. A good chip should be big rectangles of potato, crisp and brown on the outside and fluffy and sweet on the inside and thankfully this is exactly what the Angel delivers.
It was a lunchtime after all and dessert would have been just a little bit to indulgent but, had I indulged, then either the jam roly - poly (Spelt Rolly - Polly!), or the dark cinder toffee - coated chocolate mousse laced with honey would have both been fighting for my attention, with another Lancastrian institution of the Eccles cake entering the race a very close third.
This is a great pub, steeped in tradition, albeit in some need of a small facelift, which serves excellent food at great prices by a chef worthy of his reputation. I’m hoping Mr. Brown is back for good this time because this place is exactly what Manchester needs and one that other aspiring gastro pubs should look to for inspiration.