Tweed Valley steak and cold compress gin infused with local botanicals
It’s been ten months since Confidential reviewed Alston Bar and Beef. We remember going along, slightly punch drunk from other places in the city claiming to specialise in steaks and gin, and then being pleasantly surprised by somewhere that turned out to be not only a special find – but a coup for Manchester.
Alston’s original ‘bar and beef’ restaurant is in Glasgow Central train station, with easy access for commuters who travel miles around for their Tweed Valley beef and range of over 120 gins. Last year, from an abundance of UK cities to choose from, they settled on Manchester’s Corn Exchange as the location for their second branch.
There is no access to the restaurant through the grade II listed Corn Exchange itself. Alston’s almost hidden entrance is on the historic Cathedral side of the building where guests descend a dramatic black staircase which leads past a marble topped bar, onto a beautiful 160 cover restaurant, tiled in black and white. Despite being underground, the space is open and bright, with huge dramatic honey-themed murals by Manchester based artist Tankpetrol adding blasts of colour here and there.
It’s an ideal setting for the food – but we can’t get on to that before we’ve spent a moment going back to that gin. The relaxed elegance of Alston lends itself perfectly to a pre-dinner drink – as 1837, the ‘hidden speakeasy’ below the restaurant is a perfect way to round off the evening. Many places boldly make the claim to specialise in gin, but that usually stops at an impressive collection. What makes Alston’s gin collection so special is their addition of several seasonally-changing cold compound gins made in house by the Alston team, which can be seen on display on the wall behind the bar.
Alston’s cold compound gins (many of which have been infused by botanicals foraged from the local area), after dinner cocktails and monthly ‘chosen charity’ cocktail deserve a feature to themselves, but we must move on to the food.
As you’d expect, the focus of Alston’s menu is 35 day dry-aged steak and they have gone to great lengths to make sure theirs is some of the best in town. Traceability is paramount, as is forming a relationship with a trusted butcher. All Alston’s beef is supplied by John Gilmour & Co Ltd, an independent, family run business established in 1946 specialising in “Tweed Valley” beef from the lust Scottish Borders. Alston’s enthusiasm is infectious, so feel free to ask any of the well trained front of house team if you want to hear more about it.
Alston’s beef appears in many forms on the menu – which is tweaked a few times a year to reflect the seasons, without losing any firm favourites. See their website for the daily set menus or weekly offers, but on the a la carte, the beef stars in a starter of beef fillet carpaccio, beautifully garnished with artichoke, pickled radish, crispy shallot rings and a chimichurri dressing. It also shines in Alston’s signature burger, topped with pulled brisket, Swiss cheese and truffle mayonnaise; or marinated in Thai green dressing and tossed with a refreshing salad made with rice noodles, bok choy, chilli, ginger and bean sprouts.
Although beef dishes feature prominently, Alston’s menu is also full of adventurous vegetarian dishes and many options for fish and seafood lovers. The current menu features a vegan starter of aubergine tartare with teriyaki dressing and puffed rice noodles, or a tranche of hot smoked Scottish salmon with home pickled fennel, orange sauce, dill mascarpone and a shard of perfectly crispy skin.
Non-meat main courses include dishes featuring globally inspired flavours such as breaded curry butter chicken with squash saag aloo, or the vegetarian pumpkin and sage gnocchi with artichoke, pumpkin seeds, Parmesan, pea shoots and lemon oil.
On our recent visit, we enjoyed an adventurous fish main course of roasted hake with sea vegetables, herb gnocchi, lemongrass, cucumber ketchup and grilled cucumber. If that’s a dish which encaptures the last days of summer, desserts such as crumbed pear with crème Anglais, definitely capture a comforting autumnal vibe.
Manchester is lucky to have such a wonderful range of restaurants in the city centre. Restaurants such as Alston who take such care in ingredients, service, presentation and provenance in such relaxed and elegant surroundings are a real find.