Restaurant review - The Pointing Dog, Cheadle Hulme and Sweet Meets, Manchester

Expect quirky surprises on the menu at this lavishly recreated pub restaurant in Cheadle Hulme REVIEW BY RAY KING Plus a mini-review of Sweet Meets, Manchester

Once upon a time, back in the 1980s – in that prehistoric era before Facebook and Twitter and even Google – a cafe-bar opened in Chapel Walks, Manchester. Ged Lynch and Neil Lawrence’s Grinch was a wacky, off-the-wall sort of place which can lay claim to being (among) the first in the city to offer that superstar of fusion cooking, the hoisin duck pizza with spring onions.

Grinch is still going strong and though Lynch and Lawrence’s equally quirky venture in the Gay Village – Lush – was relatively short-lived, they established the Felicini brand in 2003 which now operates a group of six Italian restaurants in Didsbury, Manchester city centre, Wilmslow, Sheffield, Nottingham and Bakewell.

Now the pair have launched their first gastro pub, The Pointing Dog, a �1.5m reworking – though rebuilding would seem a more appropriate description – of Punch Taverns’ worn-out Smithy in Cheadle Hulme. It’s a radical transformation to say the least, deploying wood panelling inside and out, stone floors, open rafters, steel girders in the long, bustling bar and floor to ceiling windows that create a spectacularly open feel.

The size of the site – almost one and a half acres – provides not only ample car parking but also a huge outside patio area with handsome furniture and raised wooden planters growing lavender. When we found our table in one of the Pointing Dog’s spacious and airy dining areas the view outside might have been of the Rocky Mountains rather than the Cheshire plain.

The menu, based on the best available ingredients, is a truly eclectic affair and after the constraints of meeting the expectations of diners seeking Italian classics at Felicini, there’s more than a touch of the Grinch’s old penchant for springing quirky surprises.

Dishes range from barbecue-inspired Latin American platters to British comfort food like chicken and ham hock pie; from prime cuts and grills to innovative salads nuanced by seasonings suggestive of Italy, south east Asia and the Pacific rim. It all seems like a big ask for the team beavering away in the large, open-to-view kitchen, but they well and truly delivered on the very busy Saturday night of our visit.

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My starter epitomised their approach: a generously proportioned home-made taco came stuffed to the brim with a chunky mango and avocado salsa, ‘Asian slaw’, coriander and delicious, tender squid that had been dusted with chilli and deep fried – an inspired combination of flavours and textures for �5.95. Mrs K opted for dressed Devon crab salad (�8.50), a rather mundane description for a bountiful tower of excellent white flesh bound by the brown and spiked with ‘revival piquante Thousand Island dressing’ for spreading on Melba toast. Superb.

For the mains we turned to the menu’s ‘prime cuts and grills’ section and were rewarded handsomely. My 10oz butcher’s cut leg of lamb steak (�13.50), served pink and on the bone, came with a tip-top olive and caper puttanesca dressing and a choice of one of the grill’s salad extras.

I chose a combination of bobby (French green) beans, peas, proper pancetta and Dijon mustard dressing, which accompanied perfectly. Mrs K had ‘Best British fillet steak’, worth every penny of its �23.95, succulent and flavoursome having been matured for a minimum of 28 days and served exactly medium rare with burnt thyme and garlic tomatoes and B�arnaise sauce. We shared a side of French fries (�2.95) which were fine, though really the quality of the meat deserved proper hand-cut chips.

Mrs K had yummy runny warm chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream and salted peanut butter for pudding (�5.50) while I chose three perfectly conditioned cheeses (�7.95) – Blacksticks Blue, Munster and Ravensoak – from a fine selection to round off. We drank glasses of fruit-driven Chilean chardonnay with the starters and rich, spicy Simsonig Stellenbosch Shiraz provided a perfect foil for the lamb and beef.New dog, new tricks... and pointing in the right direction.

The Pointing Dog, Grove Lane, Cheadle Hulme, SK8 7NE. 0161 485 6031,

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SWEET MEETSThe Market Restaurant, 104 High Street, Manchester, M4 1HQ0161 834

Style of venue Unassuming, but this Northern Quarter restaurant has all the comfort of a home filled with bric-a-brac and items reflecting the passions of owner Gary Newborough.Sweet Meets is an informal pudding club held on the last Thursday of every other month. It began in 1987 and throughout the years has served up steamed puddings, crumbles, jellies and pavlovas. The menu proclaims ‘every calorie has been a good one’.

On the menu You get a small savoury main course first – a chicken Caesar salad on the evening we visited. But then it’s five courses of full-sized desserts. After the feast, diners vote for their favourite pud. Our group enjoyed Millionaire’s Shortbread, Caf� Cr�me Brulee, Bees Knees Cheesecake, Pecan Pie and Tarte Au Citron, all served on an eclectic mix of china plates. The brulee won by a landslide.

D�cor We ate our monolithic stack of puds in the Elizabeth Raffald Room, named after the author of Experienced English Housekeeper, former housekeeper to the Warburton family at Arley Hall and owner of a Manchester confectionary shop.

Ambience A cosy atmosphere where diners are seated together on a few large tables. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet people as well as discuss puddings.

Service Relaxed but attentive. Our waiter Dan served up our puddings while encouraging us to keep eating!

Cost A reasonable �25 per person. The ticket includes a welcome drink. Further drinks can be purchased. Booking is essential.

Suitability for entertainment A fantastic place to go with your partner or a larger group of friends.

Emma Mayoh

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