Restaurant review - The General Elliot, Croft and Brown's Bar and Brasserie, Manchester

The General Elliot pub in Croft is at the heart of village life and offers some tasty, hearty food<br/>Review by Ray King

Cheshire ain’t like it used to be. What was left of the county, once Greater Manchester and Merseyside had bitten off their respective chunks in the east and west, was then split into two. But all that messing about with maps since 1974 doesn’t alter the fact that Cheshire is as much a state of mind as an ‘administrative area’ - so here at Cheshire Life, it’s as if recent history hasn’t happened. We know who we are.

That’s not to say, however, that we object to the odd addition here and there. Take the village of Croft, for example, nestling amid peaceful countryside eight miles north of the River Mersey, Cheshire’s historic boundary with Lancashire. Lancastrian for 1,000 years and now, as part of Warrington, it’s officially Cestrian – or was, for Warrington is now a unitary authority.

It’s a bit like Gibraltar: British, but surrounded by Spain. Cue a link: Croft’s village pub is called The General Elliot, named after Major General Roger Elliot, one of the earliest governors of the Rock after we took the fortress during the War of the Spanish Succession. There were, it’s said, scores – maybe hundreds - of pubs honouring Elliot’s exploits before Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington cornered the market in inn signs. But Croft’s pub, built in the 1700s, predates both Trafalgar and Waterloo.

Revived, refurbished and restyled after an 18-month closure, the 400-year-old inn reopened in 2008 as ‘village pub and restaurant’ and though the emphasis is on the food operation, as might be expected given co-owner Kirk Garbutt’s culinary pedigree, it remains the centre of the community. The General Elliot stages quiz and poker nights, hosts ‘psychic readings’ by a local medium and runs the village general store next door.

The interior is modern, colourful and attractive with a split-level bar flanked by two cosy dining areas and we took our high back leatherette seats at a table in the former snug. Given the fact that chef patron Kirk, who runs the General Elliot with his partner Anne-Marie, spent nine years working in restaurants in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, his menu and wine list are remarkably un-French. In fact the eclecticism of the food derives from a combination of traditional British staples like haddock and chips, Cumberland sausages and mash, lamb hotpot and ‘comforting’ cottage pie with altogether more exotic oriental fare such as Thai curries and Chinese duck.

I started with tempura smoked haddock with sweet chilli dipping sauce (�5.75) which comprised four generous gougons of fish in commendably light crunchy batter on a mound of julienne carrots, peppers spring onions and bean sprouts drizzled with the sauce. Each of the components was very agreeable, but not necessarily in the same bowl; as experimental combos go, smoked fish and sweet chilli sauce nudges the bizarre.

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Creamy salty goat’s cheese and honey, however, is an excellent culinary marriage and, wrapped in a light and crisp filo pastry parcel and complimented by the peppery taste of the accompanying rocket salad, made for an excellent opener for Mrs K at �4.25.

For my main course I stuck to convention with a nicely flavoured fillet steak, delicious rustic fat chips fried with the skins on, good pepper sauce served in a tea cup and the usual trimmings (�20.50) which was all tip-top and very satisfying. Mrs K had designs on another of the blackboard specials – sea bass with pak choi and teriyaki cherry tomatoes – but it sold out early on this very busy Monday evening so she turned to Chinese duck (�16.95). It came with skin delightfully crisp, flesh moist and appetising, on a generous tangle of noodles and shredded vegetables (the mandolin in the kitchen must have been busy that night) with an aromatic oriental plum sauce.

For pudding we shared a lovely wedge of light, tangy vanilla cheesecake topped by rich fruits of the forest (�4.95). The wine list, dominated by New World selections, is short and attractively priced, producing an appealing glass of South African Chenin Blanc (�2.95) as an aperitif – it could do with more choice by the glass - and a bottle of concentrated Aussie shiraz (�13.95) with the mains.  The General Elliot Village Pub and Restaurant,51 Lord Street, Croft, Cheshire WA3 7DE. Tel 01925 766900; www.thegeneralelliot.co.uk

Meal in a minute

Digest this mini-review in 60 seconds

Browns Bar and Brasserie1 York Street, Manchester, M2 2AW, 0161 819 1055www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/ locations/manchester

Style of venue

This striking restaurant and bar, the first addition to the Brown’s stable in eight years, has all the ingredients for a great meal. It’s just as busy at lunchtime as it is on a Friday and Saturday evening.

On the menu

A dizzying choice. My starter of mushrooms stuffed with garlic (�4.95) were full of flavour. For mains I chose a delicate prawn linguine (�10.95) and there were satisfied murmurs from my guest who chose the ample steak pie (�10.95). Be warned: portions are generous. I was wishing I’d skipped straight to the final course when the pan-sized portion of rhubarb crumble, served with a jug of custard (�5.45), arrived. Likewise, my guest could not finish her rich chocolate brownie (�5.45).

D�cor

Fire delayed the opening but it was worth the wait. The beautiful Art Nouveau building, designed by Charles Heathcote and dating back to 1902, was once the home of Parrs Bank. The Edwardian, dark but welcoming interior includes huge Spanish marble pillars.

Ambience

Great atmosphere. Plenty of diners and some just enjoying a drink, which created a nice buzz.

Service

Excellent. The staff were friendly, efficient and attentive.

Cost

Expect to pay around the �60 mark for a three course meal for two with a bottle of house wine.

Suitability for entertainment

Fantastic. I think you’d struggle to find someone who wouldn’t like this establishment.

Emma Mayoh

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