Restaurant Review: The Lime Tree
The last time I went to the Manchester institution that is The Lime Tree in West Didsbury, I missed Noel’s House Party. Needless to say, it was a while ago.
The only things I remember about that meal are a beautiful beef carpaccio – my first experience of blue meat, and probably still the best – and a very cramped dining room.
Despite a smart facelift at some point during the last dozen years, the latter hasn’t changed much. My wife, who is only 5ft tall, managed to clatter a menu off the table adjacent to ours while taking off her coat, much to the bemusement of the man trying to read it.
If you’ve got a penchant for swinging cats while you eat, this is not the place for you.
The dining tables are also on the small side, presumably so you don’t risk giving neighbouring diners a faceful of bottom when you go to sit down. Ours was overcrowded before the menus were placed upon it. Once a bottle of wine and a jug of water joined the affray and food started to be doled out, it bordered on pure chaos.
But these proved to be only mild distractions in the grand scheme of things. As soon as a friendly member of staff had furnished me with an appealing menu and wine list, and the warm atmosphere had begun to charm, all was forgiven. Before I’d tasted a morsel, I was already thinking it would be a nice restaurant to visit with family or friends. It’s that sort of place.
Fortunately, the food did little to stop me thinking that a future trip would be a good idea.
My starter of pigeon, black pudding, belly pork and apple was excellent.* When I reviewed Jem&I in East Didsbury a few months ago, I said some of its starters reminded me of the dishes that get rejected from the first round of MasterChef. But The Lime Tree gave me a dish straight out of the final; one that would be vomit-inducingly gushed over by John and Gregg.
It was beautiful to look at. The bright pink of the sliced pigeon breast against the black of the pudding and the dark green of a spinach bed was a treat for the eyes, and it tasted as good as it looked. Each element was of quality and precisely cooked; the combination of flavours difficult to fault. The only slight issue was that the belly pork lacked crispy skin. It was one decent bit of crackling away from that irritating tension music and Gregg saying: “The winner of MasterChef 2011 is…”
Annoyingly, my main didn’t come close to the same standard, and I mostly blame myself. Unable to decide what to order, my wife suggested I ignore the other items on the menu and get a steak instead. Stupidly, I listened and broke my golden rule. Never order a steak in a restaurant that doesn’t specialise in steak.
The chips were perfectly fine and I had no quarrel with the mushrooms. It was also a nice healthy size, which isn’t always the case. But the T-bone itself was just sad. There was some flavour there; I could tell it was a good bit of meat. However, it had been cooked at too low a temperature and for too long. The outside was a pallid grey colour; the inside ranged from medium to medium-well (nothing like the medium-rare I’d requested). A good pepper sauce might’ve saved it, but this was probably the most disappointing part of the plate. Almost sickly in its creaminess, it lacked any degree of peppery bite.
Across the table my wife was enjoying some very pleasant duck in a nicely balanced orange and Cointreau sauce. The accompanying buttered veg was spot on. Trying it confirmed to me that I’d ordered badly and that my mediocre course was simply my mistake. It’s worth stressing, however, that this mistake cost £25!**
The meal got back on track with pudding. Crème brûlée – one of my all-time favourites – was done very well: the cream the right temperature; the glazed sugar the right thickness. Kirsch-soaked cherries, a decent sable biscuit and a few blobs of sauce on the side added a little bit extra. It was a satisfying way to round off the evening.
Given that my main was so weak, this probably sounds a little strange, but I strongly recommend The Lime Tree, certainly if you live in this end of south Manchester. Prices are comparable to the likes of Jem&I and No.4 Dine and Wine, but barring the one slip, the food was of a much higher standard, the ambiance was vastly superior and the wine list was a cut above.
I’ve often found with local restaurants, once they’ve been around for a few years and they’re established enough that their customer base is assured, they’ll rest on their laurels a bit, treading out the same tired dishes over and over again. It’s to the credit of The Lime Tree that well over two decades since it first opened its doors, there is little sign of this being the case.
For my money, it’s the best restaurant in Didsbury, east or west.
Just stay away from the steak.
Dining Room: 3.5/5
Overall score: 51/100 (Good)
*Interestingly, while I’ve been warned plenty of times over years that the dish I’ve ordered ‘may contain shot’, this pigeon was the first time I’ve ever come across some. One tiny little ball bearing, which I was tempted to keep, until I dropped it on the floor and promptly lost it.
**£25 could buy you a steak at Smoak. Think it through.