Tuesday 25 September 2007

A Trip Oop North

We, me, Paul and his mother, Sheila, took a weekend jaunt to her birthplace and the early environs of her life in and around Middleton, which is near Manchester for the geographically challenged among us. For me, it was a novel trip to a part of the country I've never really explored. For Paul and his mother it was nostalgia and history combined. We took pictures of houses and streets, looked in graveyards, found a surprising number of public houses associated with the family tree and Sheila was able to tell us how it all used to look, when there were fields and market places instead of housing estates and shopping malls. Family lore was refreshed and reinforced.


However, history is hungry work and by the evening of Saturday I was looking forward to a good dinner. This part of the country is renowned for black pudding, tripe and a good deal of lard as a cooking fat, hardly ideal for vegans hoping to eat out.

We'd done a bit of research on the web beforehand to see if there was anything available and found the usual selection of small cafes only open during the day and interesting sounding places that were no longer in existence. It all looked rather bleak so eventually we decided to take a relatively long drive to the best sounding place that still had a working website, Greens. This is situated in a leafy gentrified suburb of Manchester which we would never have found without our trusty GPS.

It's not a huge place but modern and fairly sparse in decor it doesn't feel claustrophobic and the noise levels don't preclude civilised conversation which is often the case in popular small venues. Reviews on the web suggested it would be essential to book and I'd agree with that but actually we didn't, instead preferring to use the clever strategy of arriving at opening time, an unfashionable 5:30, and hoping to find a space in the first service. They warned us we'd have to be clear by 7:30 but the staff were attentive and the food prompt so that was no hardship.

We were slightly disappointed to find there were only a couple of vegan options available in each course. The possibilities for starters were the soup of the day, Roasted Tomato, Ginger and something I can't remember or Oyster mushrooms with Peking pancakes. After our long day of sightseeing Paul and I both wanted soup and Sheila decided against a starter at all, so we can't claim to have really tested the starter menu but the soup was excellent, arrived at the table quickly and was nearly as quickly dispatched.

Main courses seemed uninspiring. A Lancashire Hotpot or a Bean and Mushroom Chilli (which doesn't seem to be on the web published menu) so we had one of each and pledged to swap plates half way.

After two bites of my chilli I decided that this was a mistake. The chilli had sounded so dull I wasn't really looking forward to it, but it was delicious, warmly and cleanly spiced with crunchy vegetables and a soothing Dirty Rice as a side. By comparison Paul's Hotpot was only fair. The vegetables were lost in too much sauce, the crispy potato topping a mere garnish so that overall it was unsatisfyingly meagre and unfilling. I was a bit surprised to find pickled cocktail onions in it too instead of fresh baby onions. The relish of pickled red cabbage tasted fine but it seemed to be entirely out of place. Sheila, who is vegetarian not vegan, had the sausage and mash and pronounced it good.

And so to pudding. Only one vegan option, a fruit crumble served with coconut cream. This predictable modern standard for vegan dessert was pretty nice and we enjoyed it. Sheila had a Soft Centred Chocolate pudding and despite saying she wouldn't be able to finish it managed every mouthful so that must have been alright too.

The whole meal, 2 starters, 3 mains, 3 puddings, fizzy water, a bottle of wine and two coffees came to about £70 and we added a tip to this so it wasn't particularly cheap but it was worth it. A genuinely pleasant experience and a real joy for the vegan diner in this wicked world.

I would point out that the owner is not vegetarian and we were given some flyers for his other non veg*n venture which seemed a bit hopeful frankly, and is a pity but he can't be faulted for Greens which is an example many other veggie restaurants would do well to study.

After that we went on to the hotel, a completely different experience but this post has gone on long enough already. Maybe another day...

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