It may sound like a laxative, but Elnecot's food offering is solid
Well, the bewailing, hand-wringing and general lamentation is over for another year. The Michelin stardust is scattered elsewhere; it’s time for closure. Time to discover somewhere real you’d happily frequent on more than a special occasion. Time for Elnecot. Ok, it may sound like a laxative or a rural rail halt, but it’s arguably the best new arrival on the Manchester food and drink scene this year.
Like The Refuge in 2016, it has turned up too late to make the cut for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards shortlists, but its time will arrive. When it is joined by Sugo at the business end of Blossom Street Ancoats will surely come of age as a contender. It certainly looks the part for a district named by one travel guide as the UK’s hippest. I particularly like the orange upholstery glowing against the muted grey industrial chic of the rest. Big light-grabbing windows are great, too; pity they look out onto construction work across the ginnel.
The name of this ‘neighbourhood bar/restaurant’ is a homage to the area’s past – think skinny serfs rather than skinny lattes. First recorded in 1212, Elnecot was the original name for the area now known as Ancoats.
Chef/co-owner Michael Clay aims to draw inspiration from that rough hempen heritage, poaching the King’s stags with a longbow and crafting his own mead from windfall crab apples. Just jesting there, but this gifted globetrotter come home is into pickling and fermenting and creating dishes to showcase locally sourced and sometimes foraged, seasonal produce.
All so voguish yes, but on the plate Clay delivers very approachable food, dividing his menu into five sections – Nibbles, Balls, Veg, Meat and Fish before an afters offering that features, naturally, (Ye Olde) lemon posset.
As is the way of small plates, they scooted out in haphazard fashion, meaning the Fiano white (£9 a large glass) we had ordered to accompany smoked haddock arancini (£5.50) and British buffalo burrata with pea puree (£8, pictured top) wasn’t quite the thing for the pig head croquettes (£5.50), crispy lamb sweetbreads (£5) and braised ox cheek (£7) now jostling those dishes to one side, so we swiftly despatched manager James for a large glass of Sixteen Ridges Pinot Noir (£11.25).
This was a smart move. First harvested in 2014 from a vineyard on the Hereford/Worcester border, this is a soft, fruit bowl of a red with just enough oaky vanilla. The Fiano from the Campania was more uncompromising as you’d guess from its supplier, natural wines specialist Buon Vino – a smoky, fleshy mouthful.
I expected more eclectic influences on the menu, given chef Clay’s global wanderings (Melbourne, Auckland, Paris, Berlin after his native Cheshire), but it’s the classical grounding that comes through. England meets France with a nod to Fergus ‘nose to tail’ Henderson.
Take the fried sweetbreads, given the Sainte Menehould breading treatment usually afforded to pig’s feet or lamb breast, and the equally crisp pig’s head croquettes with a subtly tangy piccalilli. All comforting and precisely seasoned. First mouthful and the pale ale braised ox cheek lacked oomph; then you grasped its marriage with parsnip puree and chimichurri pesto, the whole greater than the parts. It had me purring.
On reflection perhaps the smoked haddock arancini was one deep-fried dish too far (and I’d have preferred rice to barley as its base) but the burrata on a swirl of pea puree was a heavenly combo with a sweet but earthy undertow, the savoury tuiles (of sweet potato?) for dipping spot on.
Yes, he does veg well, too. A side of vegan-friendly ‘Disco Cauli’ (£6.50) joined the party, pickled florets, pomegranate arils, watercress, a crunchy, piquant delight. Across the table the big nod was for a side of roast carrots with pine nuts, goat’s cheese curd and coriander shoots (£3.50).
We never got round to the nibbles – ‘living wall’ focaccia with broccoli hummus, crispy pig’s ears and the like – or dived into a very interesting drinks list from Ancoats-themed cocktails (Scuttlers Belt, Angel Meadow, anyone?) to peanut butter stout in a can from Nashville’s Tallgate brewery. With pudding we did sip a first for me, Blenheim English Ice Cider, once again from Hereford at £3 a tot for a pure sweet appley hit. It went well with the raspberry dotted posset (£5). Zesty and creamy - though I would have liked shortbread with it – it was outclassed by the best chocolate fondant in living memory (also just a fiver). An oozy, molten, cocoa solid heavy conquest of the senses worth pride of place in a Michelin establishment. Oh, sorry, mourners, let’s not go there.
Elnecot, 41 Blossom Street, Cutting Room Square, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AJ. 0161 237 1122. https://elnecot.com Open daily 12pm-11.30pm.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
(smoked haddock arancini 7, burrata 9, pig’s head croquettes 7, ox cheek 8, lamb sweetbreads 7, disco cauliflower 9, carrots 8, lemon posset 8, chocolate fondant 10)
James (of the huge beard) has an uncommon knowledge of the food and wine he is serving
An extra Elnecoat of paint needed in places perhaps but loved the proper industrial chic space and a great soundtrack (from Cohen to Buckley via Connor Oberst).