Apr 11th 2010
It seems we’re starting to emerge from the fog that is a new baby. Today we hit 13 weeks and all is well. As long as you don’t mind functioning on much less sleep than normal. For the rest of your life. :-)
In order to celebrate not only the fact we are still functioning as human beings (just), but also our second wedding anniversary (yikes! how did that come round?), H and I left gastrobaby in the capable hands of his mother, whilst we ventured out to – gasp – a restaurant – gasp again – together!!
Having dismissed the opportunity to try out Damson in Heaton Moor, our soon-to-be-new-stomping-ground, because its veggie options were hugely uninspired, we went for the left-field option of trying That Cafe in Levenshulme as its sample menu online looked much more interesting. I ate here many, many, many years ago and was impressed at the time. My reasoning is that if a restaurant is still going tens of years later, it must be doing something right.
We were slightly perturbed by the lack of customers when we arrived, with the restaurant never filling more than three tables. However we discovered the following night (first Wednesday of the month) was their Jazz night, so we suspect that that week, most customers waited for Wednesday. It’s a cosy venue, with a couple of enormous (we’re talking floor to ceiling) decorative mirrors, simple wooden tables and chairs, a couple of squishy chairs by the bar where you study the menu, and a bit of William Morris-type wallpaper. Homely. In fact I remember thinking years ago that it was like dining in someone’s front room. It is in fact located in two terraced houses knocked through to make one building.
Displayed on the bar were jars of home made preserves. It turns out the owners of the restaurant also own a small holding so you certainly know where you meal has come from. And the quality of the food showed. Of the three courses we each ordered, there wasn’t a scrap left of any of them. Literally.
H’s starter was a ‘Glamorgan sausage’ – a big fat roll of potato, leek and cheese, rolled in oats and almonds served with a drizzle of balsamic dressing. Very tasty. My starter of warm smoked duck salad with orange segments, roast fennel, green leaves and redcurrent sauce, was absolutely beautiful. Smoky without being salty, meaty without being fatty. Lovely.
For mains H had a concoction of shitake and oyster mushrooms on a bed of puy lentils,baked artichoke and cooked spinach. (See, it doesn’t take much to venture away from the standard goat’s cheese tart and mushroom risotto! ) The mushrooms were meaty, juicy and flavoursome, but the lentils could have contributed more. My main of lemon sole (replacing the advertised halibut) with Morecombe Bay potted shrimps in a creamy sauce with a potato rosti was very satisfying. It wasn’t packed with flavour as such, it was more about the creaminess of the sauce against the saltiness of the shrimps and the mildness of the fish. Delicious. These dishes came with cooked vegetables – a bowl of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and cabbage. Thankfully not drowning in a presumptuous blob of butter as is often the case.
We rounded off with two hot puddings with home made vanilla ice cream (although I’m not convinced of its home-madeness) – H went for chocolate brownie and I went for apple bread and butter pudding. Again, both tasted wonderful, although the texture of the bread and butter pudding was a bit soggy/wobbly, as if it had been heated in the microwave. But for the taste of it, I’ll forgive them.
With two glasses of wine, one G&T and peppermint teas (which came with little squares of shortbread and truffle/chocolate) and including a tip, the bill was around £70. Although the quality of the food certainly merited it, as each course was devoured with relish, we felt that the venue didn’t quite. During the day, it’s a cafe, and it doesn’t look like anything changes to the ‘look and feel’ of the place when it comes to the evening service. So the prices didn’t sit right with the surroundings, even though the food most certainly did. If you can get past that, its worth a trip.