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The Aumbry, Prestwich, Manchester

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Is the Oyster Pudding like a Steak Pudding lesser the steak?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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It’s just on two years since we were last at Aumbry. We’d been less than thrilled last time and been in no rush to go back. There had been something of a lack of generosity in portion size that we felt bordered on taking the piss (and made me seriously think about getting a bag of chips on the way home) but there is none of that now. In fact, much the opposite. Service is good – the staff maintaining that difficult balance between friendliness and formality. The whole game has certainly been upped. We’ve been “off” tasting menus for a while, preferring traditional three coursers when it’s on offer, but we went with the full nine courses this time.

Bread comes with two butters and a dish of beef dripping, for dipping, which puts an early northern stamp on the meal.

There was an amuse of cured ham, a dinky little Derbyshire oatcake (about the size of a 10p) and a blob of cheese mousse, all of which worked well together as you might expect.

Mackerel is home smoked but done so lightly that the texture remains almost as raw fish. There’s poached rhubarb, still retaining a little bite but not the almost raw version that we’ve suffered a couple of times recently. A slick of mustard cream brings another classic accompaniment to the fish. As did the toasted rye bread.

The black pudding Scotch egg is a dish we remembered from two year ago. It’s a little belter. Well, of course it is. Quail’s egg, still nicely runny, encased in a light mousse of the pudding and fried with a crisp crumb. It sits on a mushroom with a slick of homemade brown sauce and tomato ketchup. Perhaps Lancashire on a plate?

Next up was the dish I think I enjoyed most. Cauliflower and oat groat porridge. Powerful and delicious flavours here with the texture like a well made risotto. It was the sort of dish that, if you were feeling a bit down, would give you a big comforting hug. A cauliflower cheese beignet was a good accompaniment in itself and was even better when dunked in the onion puree that was also on the plate.

I have a feeling that I might have enjoyed the delicately poached plaice more, if it had not been sandwiched between the strong flavours of the porridge and the following course of pigeon. In itself, it was good enough and you’d think that the ingredients of mint, burnt butter and verjuice would stand up there. But their use was quite restrained and, for me, didn’t make too much of a contribution. I’m sure it works very well as a stand-alone main course. What did work on the plate was the oyster pudding – a light suet crust, just as you’d get with a Hollands steak pudding (although much, much, better), packed with oysters. Absolutely delicious – I reckon there’s a main course idea desperately trying to get out there.

Pigeon up next. Not something my partner really cares for so, after she’d had a quick taste, I was invited to polish off the meat for her. No problem. This really was good – full flavoured and presented perfectly rare. Braised chicory was excellent, the slight bitterness working with the gaminess of the bird. Grilled grelot also on the plate. Grelot? No, us neither - so we asked. French name for the little onions. Means sleighbell – which, I suppose, is sort of what they’re shaped like.

Cheese next. We always prefer cheese before dessert rather than the other way round in the British fashion. It does seem to send some places into a tizzy when you ask for them to change their running order, so it’s good that Aumbry does it “proper”. I wonder if they get requests to serve it after dessert? Good selection of six perfectly kept cheeses – just a small nibble of each, of course. And I can’t recall what they were – a mild goat, a nicely runny Irish cheese, a creamy almost Stilton like blue and the other three. Three different chutneys on the plate – fig was delicious and there was a bitingly sharp apple, that I’d really like the recipe to try and make at home.

First dessert was a grapefruit posset. Lovely and creamy and, with a fashionable use of vegetables in desserts, topped with a celery granita. This was good. Really good.

Final offering was a beetroot and chocolate cake. Not too sweet. In fact, just as sweet as you want it, but no more. Somewhere in there was a hint of caraway – which seemed just right as an eastern European match with the beetroot. A rather clever end to an all round excellent meal.

I really don’t know anywhere else in the metro area which is offering food of this standard.

John Hartley

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