The Black Friar, 41-43 Blackfriars Road, Salford M3 7DB (0161 667 9555). Starters and small plates £ 5 to 15; £ 15 to £ 38; desserts £ 8-9; wines from £ 25 a bottle
Seen from the sky, Salford’s black brother might look a bit like Charlie Bucket’s noisy family home in the original Willy wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It is a humble old, red brick Victorian building of just two stories, surrounded by towering gray stone and steel apartment buildings. It seems like an afterthought – the local site that no one has thought of developing. And indeed, it was empty and abandoned, staring blankly at the four-lane highway for 15 years. On two occasions, fires ravaged it. Then the building was renovated and put into use as a marketing room for the beautiful new buildings that surround it.
It’s a pub again. Go through the corner entrance and it looks a lot like what you would expect: wooden floor, stove with logs stacked on either side, plush armchairs. It’s a Victoriana Lite riot. There are Boddingtons, Beavertown and Seven Brothers Easy IPA pulling. But take a closer look. It quickly becomes clear that the original red brick building has been incorporated into the development that surrounds it. There are light and airy modern extensions in all directions. The floors are tiled in dizzying black and white. Dining rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows lead into a space with an open kitchen and shelves filled with pots of shiny red leaf poinsettias. There are patios adorned with fairy lights.
Keep all of this in mind. Because it is now clearly a local boozer with a particular locality in mind: the Spectrum development of which it is now part. After a long day of working at the forefront of modern media communications, or whatever the dwellers of those tidy apartments do, they might stare at their nest pub and decide that they can’t be forced to cook and that they will do it instead. come here, to drop £ 50 per head for dinner.
The chef, Ben Chaplin, comes from the brilliant 20 Stories in Spinningfields. So don’t expect the food to be limited to British pub essence. Originally there were two menus: an occasional grazing job for lunch, and then something fancier for the evening. Coincidentally, the very day I arrived, they merged them. What you are getting now is a hybrid. There are pies and terrines and fish and chips on the alcohol side of the ledger, and quite grander things involving truffles and champagne on the big wallet side. When I get to those prices some of you might want to start curling your noses like the characters Catherine Tate, Janice and Ray, yelling, “And this! In Salford! The dirty bastards of thieves. Get it out of your system now. It’s an ambitious pub in a rapidly changing Greater Manchester.
What matters is that the cuisine is big and bullish and, for the most part, relevant. A slice of wild boar and pheasant terrine has just the right balance between fat and meat. It’s solidly seasoned and was left at room temperature, so the flavors weren’t murdered by chilling in the fridge. It is a testament to the profession of butcher. On the side, a hot brioche bun speckled with truffles and a daring walnut and pear chutney. If you pay £ 10 for a terrine, you want it to look like this.
On the shiny restaurant side of things come big, fatty scallops. Two are burned by this gorgeous golden brown screaming, “Eat me!” Eat me now! The third is coated with black garlic crumbs to resemble a giant truffle. Then you cut to find the pearly white. They are based on a velvety white garlic purée, scribbled with parsley jelly that has started to melt in the languid heat. It’s serious cooking: both deeply beautiful and deeply edible. The rest of the brioche in the terrine is quickly put into service.
There is a pie every day. Pie liberators will be delighted to know that this is a unique item, dressed head to toe in a crumbly, flaky puff. Pie purists will agree that if you can’t throw it through a coin with one hand, it isn’t a pie. It’s a pie. Today it’s stacked right up to the lid with braised chicken and leek and it’s pretty good too. On the side, there’s a bunch of the proper mash, crunchy green beans, and a jug of hot sauce, which I sip. I tell myself that I’m doing this for professional reasons, although obviously sipping on gravy should be one thing. It is rich, sticky and plump; the type who will lick your lips for hours, even if you don’t. The £ 17 price is on the enthusiastic side. By comparison, the Mayfair Windmill pies in London cost £ 16, while, as Janice and Ray might point out, we’re really at the side of a two-lane road in Salford.
A dish of turbot with smoked eel sauerkraut, champagne velouté and caviar costs brave £ 32. Turbot is an expensive fish, but for the money, the cooking must be perfect. I find myself wanting the brightness controls you get on an Instagram photo. The turbot, although delicately cooked, has been heavily seasoned. There are the diced smoked eel already salted through the vinegar and grated cabbage. The sparkling champagne velouté is also seasoned with force and in addition, a symbol of the generosity of the Northwest more than a vital ingredient, is the spoonful of caviar. He doesn’t have to be there. There is indeed a very good dish that is struggling to get out of all this overwork. A side of roasted squash under handfuls of toasted seeds and spicy pine nuts ends up serving as a good foil to all the overworked drama.
The dessert list includes the usual beloved suspects: apple and blackberry crumble, sticky caramel pudding, chocolate fondant. It is reassuring, however. We share a beautifully made bitter orange parfait, a gift for marmalade lovers around the world, which comes with a crumbled olive oil cake, a little orange gel and with a ball of soothing labneh. As with everything served to us, even that dud of a dish of turbot, there is attention to detail here. The reception team is well trained, the drink options are wide and all the different spaces are really lovely. I would be pretty happy if the black brother was my local. Instead, it’s the local for those now above, living the life at altitude.
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