Sunday, 1 August 2010

Grill on the Alley - Manchester

Sometimes you just need meat - a statement that will antagonise environmentalists and vegetarians alike - however a statement that sometimes rings true. With this sentiment burning in our bellies, myself and my companions choose Manchester's Gill on the Alley, part of the the Blackhouse Restaurant Bar chain to satisfy our recent carnivorous cravings.

Grill on the Alley could no more be an homage to the steak than Shaun of the Dead is to zombie movies, the menu sporting all the old favourites - sirloins, fillets et al, plus a few treats such as the £55 Wagyu 'Kobe' fillet and exotics such as ostrich. To add to the foodie credentials and appease the environmentalists all the steaks are hormone free, from farms with good husbandry and allowed to hang for 28 days, plus there is a monthly guest steak; this month's being British Blue.

The restaurant also claims to have a 'healthy obsession with the freshest produce from our seas' and has many usual fashionable fish menu items including rope grown mussels, sashimi tuna loin, baby scallops and lobster - for somewhere claiming to have a 'healthy obsession' you could comment that these aren't very sustainable items, but then I was about to just stuff myself with a fat piece of red meat I couldn't really comment.

The restaurant itself is all wood, exposed bricks, low lighting, leather booths and close tables; a comfortable and lively experience when the restaurant is full. We were seated by the open kitchen and had a good view of the unflustered chefs as they prepared the vast quantity of meat trotting out of the kitchen (excuse the pun).

To start I had the Morcombe Bay Shrimps on Toast, which did what it said on the tin. The toast was crisp and the shrimps nicely spiced. My companions shared the Blackhouse Platter which was a mix of fishcakes, calamari, skewered satay chicken and duck spring rolls.

The calamari came battered, however it was a little greasy. Some of the calamari was brilliantly cooked, light and soft - although some must have been left in the fryer as it was quite chewy. The chicken satay was ok, the duck spring roll crisp but not that exciting. However the fish cakes were moist and zesty - I have to admit to stealing more of my companions' fishcakes than I was permitted and earned a rightful fork in the hand!

Predictably we all chose steak - I'd like to say we managed the wagyu, but as I'm not paid to write a blog we settled on the fillet. As steaks are only served with potatoes (chips, jacket or new) we also ordered a side of broccoli and another of green beans with shallots, plus one of my companions ordered the peppercorn sauce.

The steaks arrived cooked perfectly, though I wished I had heeded the advice of our waiter (brilliant by the way, a mix of Mancunian chat, attentiveness and delight - we tipped well in return) as those that had chosen medium rare were much more tender than my slightly chewy rare.  The steaks were nicely chargrilled, adding a crunchy, smoky element to the deep succulence. The chips were crisp yet unctuous and not greasy or tasting of the fat they were fried in at all.

Unfortunately we were less impressed with the sides which were very small. The green beans and shallots were at least sweetly smoky after coming off the griddle pan, but there were only seven of them for the £3 paid! The broccoli was awful, there was one middle size floret (yes, just one), it had been simply boiled or steamed, was plain and soggy and was more than a punch in the face for £3. The peppercorn sauce wasn't exciting, but at least wasn't congealed or cold; at least this was less of an insult at only £2.

To accompany the meal we had a bottle of prosecco, expertly chosen by the aforementioned waiter. It was refreshing to be recommended a wine that was not the most expensive on the list (and for it to be good). The night was also kept lubricated by the jug of tap water that was constantly refilled without us having to ask.

We had no room for pudding and finished the meal of with a couple of glasses of port, a just end to a meaty meal - all I needed was a smoking jacket and a pipe.

In all the meal satisfied our meat cravings and was a pleasant experience. The majesty of the steak was dampened by the lack lustre, expensive side orders; but the whole experience was greatly levitated by the kindly attentiveness from our waiter. In all I think we'd go back to the Grill on the Alley if we needed some meat as it's a perfectly alright way to spend the night.

Cost for three including two starters, three mains, one sauce, two sides, a bottle of wine and two glasses of port: £99.95

Value for money: 6/10
Atmosphere: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Food: 7/10

Total: 31/40

Grill on the Alley, 5 Ridgefield, Manchester M2 6EG - 0161 833 3465
www.blackhouse.uk.com

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