Restaurant reviews - Earle by Simon Rimmer, Hale and Sweet Mandarin, Manchester
Restaurateur Simon Rimmer is now a celebrity chef, frequently on television. He began with a modest vegetarian restaurant and six years later launched Earle in Hale to wide acclaim. Our reviewer decided to check Simon's progress REVIEW BY RAY KING
He’s one of the UK’s most recognisable telly cooks, currently inviting us to taste Something for the Weekend every Sunday on BBC2. Yet when Simon Rimmer opened his first restaurant - the tiny 28-cover vegetarian Greens in Manchester’s West Didsbury in 1990 - he was neither a veggie himself...nor a chef.
Plan A was to run the front of the house and chat up the customers. Plan B found him swotting up with his two cookery books and getting behind the stove himself because there was no money to pay anyone else.
Within two years Greens was acclaimed one of the most exciting restaurants in the UK, veggie or otherwise. The first time I went, I’d returned home and started to write the review before I realised it was a vegetarian restaurant, so appealing was the menu.
And therein lies this likeable Scouser’s trick: a no-nonsense approach to food and the knack of producing dishes that people really want to eat while all the while paying great respect to seasonality and sourcing top quality ingredients, locally wherever possible. Indeed at Earle, the neighbourhood restaurant he opened in Hale in 2006, Rimmer features the ‘Ten Mile Meal’, a four-course menu sourced from local producers within a ten mile radius.
Earle embodies Rimmer’s philosophy perfectly, primarily because he and his head chef Steven Green are not only champions of local suppliers but also populists when it comes to food. And I think that’s absolutely right. What’s the point of messing around with ingredients to such an extent that their provenance becomes irrelevant? Hence alongside Earle’s monthly-changing a la carte there’s a list of classic comfort dishes including beer battered fish and chips, gammon egg and chips, baked seafood pie with applewood smoked mash and Lancashire cheese and herb sausages – all for �10.95.
When we arrived on a Thursday evening, the restaurant was buzzing with diners taking advantage of a very attractive ‘early bird’ fixed-price table d’h�te (three courses �18.95) which made for a warm and comfortable ambience. Our table for two was tucked away in a corner of the chandelier-hung bar area of the split-level layout, the lower space featuring an open ‘theatre’ kitchen where Rimmer himself is often at work. Decor is neither too grand nor too minimally contrived: plain wooden tables were un-naped but sported colourful gerbera flowers floating in dishes, all in all a nicely relaxing feel.
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Starters are generously proportioned and double up as ‘small dishes’ – just right at lunchtime. I began with perfectly executed slow-roasted pork belly, the flesh moist and melting, the crackling delightfully crunchy, partnered with apple compote, caramelised baby onions and roasted garlic pur�e (�9.25), a combination of flavours made in foodie heaven.
Big delicious flavours – this time redolent of the Mediterranean – were also the keynotes of Mrs K’s saut�ed king prawns (�8.95), firm and juicy and served in an earthenware pot with a fabulous ‘broth’ made from tomatoes, chilli, garlic and paprika oil accompanied by tomato bread for dunking.
Her main course pan-fried Gressingham duck breast, sliced perfectly rose pink, came with brilliantly inventive goats’ cheese fritters and – from a man, pardon the pun, who really knows his greens – two kinds of cabbage: creamed Savoy and pickled red cabbage tapenade (�19.95).
My grilled whole plaice on the bone (�21.50) with beurre noisette, Lyonnaise potatoes and caramelised onions reminded me of the traditional way of serving skate. Plaice has a more delicate flavour and certainly needs a more complicated autopsy, but the fish stood up to the robustness of the saucing and the tang of the capers.
We rounded off in style by sharing a classic, light-as-a-feather brioche bread and butter pudding accompanied not only by luxurious double cream custard but also delicious ice cream and a brandysnap disc (�6.25) – a real treat of a finale. The wine list is fashionable and flavour-driven, offering a commendable 12 options by the glass including ros� and fizz.
We chose a lovely, uncomplicated chardonnay from the Cote de Thongue in the Languedoc, southern France (�18.75) offering gentle peachy notes and a lick of honey.
Earle by Simon Rimmer, 4 Cecil Road, Hale, Cheshire, WA15 9PA. Tel: 0161 929 8869 www.earlerestaurant.co.uk
Meal in a minute
Digest this mini-review in 60 seconds
Sweet Mandarin19 Copperas StreetManchester M4 1HS0161 832 8848www.sweetmandarin.com
Style of venueStreet corner Chinese restaurant with the emphasis on quality food rather than garish, colourful decor.
On the menuWhatever you have should be good. Seems it was not for nothing that Gordon Ramsay declared Sweet Mandarin his ‘Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK’ last year. They also earned an AA Rosette. Expect the usual Chinese menu favourites - and plenty more - cooked and presented to a high standard. The dim sum are to die for and the fish courses we had were particularly succulent - definitely fresh fish used here.
DecorRefreshingly plain with a few touches of Chinese ornamentation.
AmbienceIt’s welcoming, casual and authentic. Devotees of their style may enjoy a lesson in the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School.
ServiceFriendly, knowledgeable and efficient. (They also do a takeway service.)
CostGood. Two of us enjoyed a main course each, lots of bits and pieces (dim sum, soup, prawn toast,) plus drinks and desserts for �71. Cheaper lunch deals are available.
Cheshire Life restaurant reviews are conducted ‘incognito’.
We book and pay for meals as ordinary diners do so as to experience the same treatment as any member of the public. If we are ever guests of a hotel or restaurant, the review will mention that.
The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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