Aumbry, August 2014
I was lucky enough to be taken to Aumbry in August this year. I say lucky, but I chose the restaurant and booked it. Even better I was driven there and it was paid for by someone else. So all in all the best way to experience a restaurant, review done!
As we arrived in Prestwich and turned into Church road we saw the restaurant on the right hand side of the road. Admitedly not much to look at from the outside. It is a pair of 2 up 2 down terraced houses that have been knocked through to create 1 space. Formerly a cafe and a tearoom and now an exquisit gem of a restaurant in the Lancashire town. On entering the restaurant you are faced with a small but well stocked bar and then into the dining area of the restaurant. It beckons to a bygone age with Welsh dressers, polished silver cutlery, floral pattern plates and a delightful mis match of distressed white-washed chairs that collectively give you the feeling of warmth and homeliness. It is like walking into your grannys when you are a young child, safe! One thing that sets it apart from your Granys is the smell! Not that of 2 hour cooked vegetables and mothballs, but of cooking smells of a highly skilled and accomplished chef fill the air. The smells don't end in the dining room! The toilet of tardis proportions unedr the stairs has the most amazing handmade hand washes and creams that leave you smelling your hands and thinking that the person that has put everything together in this restaurant with quite a deliberate and thoughtful touch. Everything is just quite so, but at the same time looks so natural and relaxed. Juxtoposition to the olde world of some of the feautures are the contemporary photographs on the wall. The monochrome images from across the world show different elements and style of a character that evoke smoky jazz bars and a stylish laid back personality.
We were shown to our table, crisp white linen, silver cutlery in kings pattern and clean uncut crystal sat comfartably in there surroundings. As with everything we had experienced so far, detail seemed to be parramount. "Some homemade pink grapefruit infused water to cleanse your palate" was our first offering the delights that were to come. Crisp and refreshing with almost a hint of rosewater and orange blossom, cleanse it certainly did. All that was to be done now was to choose the menu. Set 3 course or 6 course tasting? It had to be the 6 courser, at £60 a head this seamed great value. Value of which we were soon to find out just how good!
6 courses is just the start of it, by the end of the meal, when counting up all the amuse bouche, snacks, bread, more snacks we must have had at least 10 or even more. I know one thing, I was wanting more! Not that I was hungry, but the explosions of flavour that I had just experienced in the previous 2 hours left me wanting more!
I'll be honest, some of the details of the dishes may be lost in the ether of my memory, not because they weren't good, but because I was enjoying the food a little too much and because there were so many. Our first snack was a little choux bun filled with a warm smoked local cheese, of which name escapes me. It was crisp, light, warm and the creamy smoky filling was just right. Then came snack number 2 and our bread. "Black peas and vinegar" The tiniest of soup terrines, just big enough for a teaspoon, filled with a black pea puree, a hint of peppermint oil and slithers of fresh mint, little batter scraps of unfathomable crunchieness with the subtle balance of salt and vinegar. the problem with this was it was too small. I'll say one thing, amuse, snacks, whatever you want to call them. When they are this good, you know the main event is going to be pretty special. The bread! Oh my god, the bread or more to the point what was served with it. There were a duo of local butters. Both whipped to a light and fluffy texture that melted in the mouth. An unsalted one and a nutty beure noisette. On there own with the crusty chewy homemade sourdough would have been enough, but no. We are in lancashire after all and when up north! A warm pot of beef dripping! That's right, warm, salty, beefy. Close your eyes and you are 8 years old with a heel of bread dipping into the Sunday roast tin. Absolutely sublime.
The first course had to have black pudding, we are in the burough of Bury after all. A scotch egg of Bury black and quails egg with mushroom relish and homemade tomato ketchup. Very tasty indeed, a pretty smart looking plate of food as well.
Then we had cold smoked mackerel, celeriac remulade, beetroot, pickled cucumber, malt loaf and grain mustard. The mackerel was subtle and soft, not too smoky at all, sweet and still tasting salty and of the sea. The beetroot puree was so smooth you could have been fooled into thinking it had been squeezed out of a tube of oil paint on to the palate ready to adore the canvas of a masterpiece. The malt loaf, airy and crunchy. My only criticism of this dish would be that there wasn't enough of the remulade and cucumber, but that is my opinion and can see that mor of it would probably have spoilt that asthetic of the dish.
Then came the soup! A little bit of an understatement. A side plate with a china cup adorned with julliene of home dried tomato, nasturtium amongst other eddible flowers. On the side a quinelle of goat's cheese fondue. But where was the soup? Of course, in the teapot that was now being served to us, a chilled crystal clear stream of tomato consome filled the cup. Really accomplished cooking here. all the flavours stood out on there own, but beautifully complimented each other.
As I write this and look back at some of the photographs I took that day, I have just remembered that there was another snack in there somewhere. Either before or after the consome. It was a refreshing honey, ginger and jasmine tea I think! As I say the memory is fuddled slightly with so many dishes and flavours savoured on that day.
We were now ready for the mouth watering combination of slow cooked Cumbrian beef, oyster, pickled cockles & Shetland black potatoes. So when the waiter came out with the smallest tray, two oyster shells with two mini loaves on them, well, you would be right to asume that I was pretty dissapointed. On the inside of the loaf which had been hollowed out and taosted, was filled with a whole oyster and braised feather blade of beef. I ahve to say bloody tasty, but possibly the smallest main course I had ever eaten. And where were the potatoes and cockles? When the plate, sorry, shell was being cleared we were then told that this was the last of our snacks! Phew, the beef was still to come. The main arrived and was the biggest palte of anything so far. Beef 3 ways, sirloin, rib and home cured pastrami, crispy Shetland potatoes, oyster puree, nasturtium flower, wild rocket from across the road, and the pickled cockles! It's not often that I would say that a plate of perfectly cooked beef and roast potatoes would be overshadowed, but these crispy little nuggets were sublime. Quite possibly the star of the show? Who knows, there were so many stars that day! From the start to the finish of the beef offering, it shows a sense of humour that is refreshing within what can be a very stuffy foody culture. It certainly made us smile and added to the enjoyment of the meal.
Next was a miniature forest of Scottish strawberries and elderflower. I got tucked into this one a little too quickly that I forgat to photograph it. It was what it was. Simple, well executed and clean flavours, the elderflower balancing well with the strawberries, but not mind blowing. Then again, I'm not sure it was meant to be .
Next on the pudding menu was sherry trifle - Colosia moscatel sherry, chamomile, mandarin & thyme. By the description you knew that this wasn't going to be any old trifle. And any old trifle it wasn't, a plate with 2 glasses, 1 with a straw. This one looked like a little milkshake, the exact combinations of this dish elude me, as by this stage the palateble bombbardment of flavours had left me slightly bamboozled. The said milkshake just disapeared as if it were not actually there. The airiation of it made it so light, it was like sucking a sherry, vanilla and manderain saoked cloud up through a straw, if memory serves me right it was a sylabub. The other glass contained the the sponge and custard comliment of the dish. Again the custard was not as you would expect. This again was light and fluffy as the espume gun had been used to airiate this. I'm not a fan of trifle normally, but this was a little bit special.
This should have been the end of our little culinary journey, but no, we were a little greedy and had requested one of the desserts from the 9 course taster as well!
Beetroot & chocolate cake, bee pollen, hazelnut, milk & honey. It arrived at the table and it looked like they had brought out the black pudding starter again. Another
glimpse of the humour that showed through the whole meal. The beetroot and chocolate cake formed thw outer part of the scotch egg, a set hazelnut cream the egg white and the bee pollen and honey the yolk. The sponge was rich, dark and earthy. Niether
the beetroot or the chocolate overpowered the other. The hazelnut cream and the bee pollen were executed brilliantly. The cream not to gelled and the spherification of the honey and bee pollen left a perfect runny yolk like center. But, and there
is a but. Unfortunatly when using the likes of calcium baths and some gelling agents, the results and effects are great, but they do have the tendancy to take away some of the flavour of the ingredients being used. It is a shame that the flavour
of the hazelnut, bee pollen and honey didn't quite come through for me. Never the less it was still a great fun end to the meal.
Onto coffee, good strong espresso, not to bitter and good crema. The petits fours carried on the fun and technical expertise. First a little lolipop which escapes me, then rhubarb and custard. The rhubarb in jelly form and the custard, a rich vanilla ice cream, coated in cornflour and icing sugar, like little frozen turkish delights. I'm sure there was 1 more, but by this stage I had had more flavours and ingredients go into my mouth than would normally go in a month!
All in all an excellent meal and would well reccomend the trip to it. as we were leaving we noticed the stairs and relised that there was an upstairs as well. So we poped up to have a little look. Again a throwback to yester year. Gilted mirrors, occasional tables, cookery books, horse hair filled chairs. A little journey back to the roots of the Victorian terrace house that it once was.
Aumbry restaurant, 2 Church Lane, Prestwich, Manchester,M25 1AJ
0161 798 5841