I had an overnight in Manchester with work last week. I really like Manchester, even though I only ever seem to go there on work duties. The last couple of times had been political party conferences, and the town is swamped with politicos, lobbyists, the media and party members. When I've had a free evening I've always tried to slip away from the throng of conference and find the beating heart of the city. Luckily, that wasn't too hard and I've been to some characterful (and bargainous) curry houses in the Northern Quarter, a basement Armenian restaurant and some fun bars and pubs.
This time I was on my own (no lobbyists for company!) and keen to try out some more of Manchester's dining options. I opted for the institution that is Tom's Chop House, a traditional north western restaurant/pub in the centre of the town, after lots of positive words from friends who've been there. It's all Victorian splendour inside: tiled floors, dark wood panelling on the walls, and lots of nice antique furniture. The waiting staff sensitively tucked me in a corner (slight look of sympathy when I asked for my "Table for one"!) with a good view of the restaurant and bar.
My first course was brown onion soup. It was very close to French onion soup (which I love), rich and deep flavours, the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions and the saltiness of the stock. Also like its French counterpart, it was served with a cheese crouton, although it was mature cheddar rather than gruyère. Really nice.
For my main I had a Lancashire beefsteak casserole with root veg and a dumpling. I do love a dumpling, and the casserole was utterly perfect. Really subtle but effective use of herbs and a good stock made the sauce delicious, while the meat itself was incredibly tender and clearly good quality.
The wine list was really expansive and not too expensive, but you could get some really nice stuff by the glass too. I opted for a glass of Borsao Garnacha Tinto, which matched the food perfectly. I was very full and the restaurant was getting busy with loud and happy Mancunians coming in to celebrate birthdays and catch up with long-time-no-seen friends. I ducked away from the chorus of 'I'll have a large Pinot Grigio!' to retire to my Travelodge and get on with some studying. But I was very happy to have experienced a slab of old skool Mancunian tradition on my one night there.