Restaurant Review: Aumbry
I love writing scathing reviews. There’s nothing more fun than donning the hat of mean and being a complete and utter bastard.
I’m much better suited to making negative comments than positive ones, or at least that’s how I feel. I certainly know far more insults than compliments. There’s just a pleasure to be had from constructing phrases of harsh ridicule that isn’t there when writing praise. I think I’m better at it, and when I have bad things to say, I reckon my posts are more interesting.
So do forgive me if I bore you to death while recounting my meal at Aumbry, which last week gave me the best meal I’ve ever had in Greater Manchester.
It’s the little things and how well they’re done that make Aumbry such a good restaurant. The tiny dining room – a converted domestic lounge which looks to seat 28 but felt nicely full with half that number on my visit – is a wonderful place to eat. Quaintly adorned and warmly lit, it’s cosy and intimate and has a lot of character. The open kitchen at the back provides a refreshingly un-showy focal point.
The team of waiters is small too – and magnificent. I can imagine it’s very difficult to get the balance right in a place like this, where high-end food demands rigid formality but the dining room calls out for casual friendliness. Each of the two staff members walked this fine line with aplomb, proving extremely efficient, charming and knowledgeable as they flawlessly tended to our table.
The small things done well theme continued into the food, where a focus on the little details gave everything a lift.* The bread wasn’t particularly special but the bread course was. Two types of butter including a wonderful brown nut variety were served in one pretty little pot; joyous beef dripping – the bread accompaniment of all bread accompaniments – was served in another.
In the nine-course tasting menu, it was the little things that outshone everything else. The Scotch eggs were excellent but it was the ketchup that made the dish, a luscious red sauce that had me raking at the plate to scoop up every drop. A hexagonally-cut mushroom, an ingredient so often an afterthought, was immaculate too. On a plate of turbot – my favourite fish – the itty-bitty frogs’ legs stole the show. On the cheese board, it was the beetroot and rhubarb condiments that stood out and sparkled.
Given the passion the kitchen clearly has for the fiddly bits, it’s perhaps not surprising that the first two dishes were the most successful. The most diminutive, refined and delicate of the lot, each of the morsels they encompassed was delicious individually; combined they truly excelled.
Home-smoked mackerel with poached rhubarb and mustard cream was my favourite, an absolutely dazzling dish from the top end of the 1-Michelin-star spectrum. But the home-cured ham with Derbyshire oatcake and potted cheddar that preceded it was every bit as good. My wife’s dish of the night – the Scotch egg – completed a very strong first act.
I didn’t feel the middle part of the meal quite reached the same heights, but there was still plenty to adore. The hogget was beautiful; the pearl barley and braised shoulder served under it inspired. I’ve already mentioned the frogs’ legs, but the smoked eel pudding was just as big a delight.
I did have a couple of quibbles, however. The cauliflower and oat groat porage wasn’t really to my taste,** and it felt a bit like porage overload given its similarity in texture to the hogget’s pearl barley accompaniment. There was a lapse in the precision cooking in this section as well. In fairness, it was the only blip during the whole meal, but it was not an insignificant one: the turbot was overdone.
The final act started with an attractively presented cheese board – six different varieties of cheese, three different condiments, two different ports, one big dose of heaven. This was followed by two very capable, if slightly uninteresting, desserts. Each was well-made, but I felt they lacked a bit of the imagination so prevalent among the other seven courses. Still good, mind!
The full menu (£60) with matching wine (£38) is below. All of the wine pairings worked well and I’d highly recommend it if you have the nine-course tasting menu.
Home Cured Inglewhite Ham
Potted cheddar & Derbyshire oatcakes
Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2009
Home Smoked Mackerel
Poached rhubarb & mustard cream
Chablis ‘Le Grand Bois’, Domaine Grande Chaume 2008
Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg
Mushroom relish & tomato ketchup
Morgon Les Charmes 2009
Cauliflower & Oat Groat Porage (v)
White onion purée & cauliflower cheese beignet
Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre 2009
Roast Wild Turbot
Smoked eel pudding, frog’s leg, parsley root & verjuice
Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc 2010
Slow Cooked Herdwick Hogget
Pearl barley, braised Shoulder, smoked shallot, crispy lamb belly, Madeira jelly
Crozes Hermitage, Etienne Pochon 2009
British & Irish Cheeses
Rene Mure Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2006 & Krohn Colheita Port 1978
Celery granita & grapefruit sherbet
Chateau Jolys Jurancon 2008
Beetroot & Chocolate Cakes
Heaton Park honey, hazelnut, caraway & bee pollen
Jean Bousquet Malbec, Dulce Naturale 2007
Overall I had a fabulous meal at Aumbry. It wasn’t just the best I’ve had in Greater Manchester, it’s the best I’ve had in Greater Manchester by a long, long way. The couple we got talking to at the table next to ours seemed to be having a similar experience, breaking out the superlatives for every dish. There were just so many high points and nothing much in the way of a low. The four of us agreed that places this good don’t really exist around here.
I want to give a special mention to how well the kitchen catered for my wife’s dairy allergy. I’ve complained in the past about expensive restaurants promising it won’t be a problem and then doing a terrible job of it, and it’s always a big fear when we splash out on a meal. But Aumbry were outstanding; as accommodating as any place we’ve ever been. Discussing it afterwards we decided they were probably as good in this area as Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, and better even than The Waterside Inn (both three-Michelin-starred restaurants, in case you didn’t know). A specially-made dairy-free chocolate petit four was the icing on the cake.
I’ve already convinced my family to give Aumbry a try – we’re planning to head back to celebrate my dad’s birthday in May. But if you live in Greater Manchester, you really need to try it too. I’m pretty sure it’s the finest restaurant in the county. And I doubt you’ll be disappointed.***
Dining Room: 3.5/5
Overall score: 69/100 (Excellent – must try for locals)
Note: I returned to Aumbry in June 2012 and took some pictures of the experience. You can read that review here.
*I forgot to mention the pre-meal nibbles: a couple of decent gougères and some seriously addictive crisps.
**I’m not saying the cauliflower dish was bad, just not up my street. I don’t particularly like cauliflower, nor am I that into foods that have a grainy consistency. Interestingly, when I discussed the meal with my sis-in-law’s fella, who’d eaten at Aumbry a few weeks earlier, this was the dish he really raved about. Different strokes…
***In case anybody is wondering where the food pictures are, I didn’t bother to take any. I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t remember my camera until after the bread, following which I decided snapping away would probably detract from the experience. Certainly, it would’ve been distracting, and I’d rather have a great meal distraction-free than a blog post full of pretty pics.