Nibbles, ignore them at your peril. So often overlooked with all those small plates, big plates, starters, mains and everything else in between vying for attention, sometimes they keep things simple in all the right ways.
Thankfully on our trip down to Urban Cookhouse, the New York styled bar and eatery perched on the edge of Manchester’s Gay Village, we gave in to a beginning bite in the form of whitebait with lemongrass aioli. And they were fantastic, plump little fish in the lightest batter they got the evening off to a great start, before even a starter was served.
We also kicked things off with cocktails to match, in the form of the gin based floraison invasion and a blackberry melon margarita. Both were pretty full on and punchy, Urban Cookhouse is aiming to be a relax by day, party by night kind of venue and these drinks certainly fit that bill. After those tipples we moved on to a bit of a Finest team favourite, EPA from local lads Seven Brothers brewery, definitely an ale to keep an eye on.
To begin the food in earnest I opted for the crispy cod cheeks, probably a bit of a mistake to go for fried fish again after all that whitebait, but this was accompanied with a super tangy lime jam and Asian slaw, some really fresh flavours that kept things interesting. A lamb fillet salad was top notch too, seared, pink inside and feathered with onion, chilli, toasted almonds with harissa packing a finishing punch.
I always say have lamb when you can, and having let the starter go it was back on my menu for mains. This came playfully presented as cannon loin pan fried and halved, and neck served in a mess tin alongside boulangere potatoes. Carrot and swede fondants, some braised celery and a port wine jus finished off a really tasty dish that in truth my photos didn’t do justice, I guess mess tins look better in real life than on film.
My guest for the evening was trying to keep things healthy so picked the tuna steak, it was nice but probably a bit too wholesome in truth. The accompanying smoked tomatoes, celeriac remoulade and fondant potato were good but not too exciting. A lesson learnt in lack of self indulgence, but we more than made up for that with some glutinous desserts.
On to those afters, and we were ready to indulge, a caramel trio of honeycomb crème brulee, liquid popcorn and ras el hanout caramel sounded impressive and definitely pleased my sweet tooth. The shot of liquid popcorn was a bit odd, but I can never resist honeycomb and the dish was another interesting medley of ingredients. The chocolate torte was more of a brownie, though no complaints here, and was flanked by vanilla ice-cream, pistachio crumb and raspberries. All in all a more classic combination, and a nice note to end any meal.
There’s plenty more on the menu we could’ve tried as well, I have to admit to having a keen eye on most things coming out of that busy open kitchen. Even if it’s just for a drink though we’ll definitely be back to Urban Cookhouse, just save us a pile of that whitebait!