God bless the cow
Cows are getting a pretty tough time of it at the moment and if I was them I would be feeling mightily underappreciated. This is not the case at Alston Bar & Beef though, and the sign above the door is as good as a no entry sign for Greta Thunberg.
The team at Alston have a number of hurdles to overcome in their bid to feed Manchester’s carnivores. Firstly is the growing trend for shunning red meat, then there is the fact that Manchester has a plethora of top end steak restaurants to choose from. Finally, is the fact that despite being a Corn Exchange restaurant, it is one of the few venues that can’t actually be accessed from the inside of the Corn Exchange – its entrance is via the streetside. Thankfully though, I live for red meat, have found some of the other steak restaurants ‘hit & miss’ in terms of the quality of meat served and (unlike my mate who I was meeting) I sussed out where the entrance was pretty sharpish.
“A great safe space for avoiding the Greta Thunberg wannabes.”
Once inside, would be diners are immediately faced with a small bar area with an impressively large ‘gin wall’ of giant dispensers filled with home made flavoured gins. This proved to be far to much of a distraction for us, so we swiftly tucked in to a G&T each, opting for one strawberry & basil and one orange & vanilla. The blends were subtle and refreshing.
Being a random Tuesday night just before pay day, the restaurant wasn’t at its fullest, which was lucky as it enabled us to pull over a second two-seater table that would later become our side dish holding bay.
Our charming Canadian waitress was attentive and patient with us and swiftly brought over fluffy soft bread and moreishly rich butter, along with the airiest, lightest pork scratching I have ever tasted. We picked at these as we dissected the menu.
We started with ox tail croquettes and seared scallops, although a slice of misfortune that can be blamed on a mumbled order, meant we were initially served a duo of Scottish smoked salmon instead of the scallops. We were told to enjoy the salmon as a bonus whilst the chef made the scallops. I am a sucker for croquettes of all kinds, and these did not disappoint, they had a nice golden crunch on the outside and a rich, soft filling of shredded ox tail. The highlight of the salmon dish was the wasabi creme fraiche that accompanied it. The scallops, when they arrived, had seen just about enough of the hotplate to leave them soft and fleshy inside.
As you would expect from a restaurant that pits its beef as its main billing, there was a good selection of cuts and choices of sauces to be poured on top. Rather boringly we both went for a fillet with bearnaise sauce. I ordered it rare, the pleb I was with went for something closer to medium. That was the simple part of the order. Whittling down the long list of enticingly sounding side dishes to two or three was almost impossible. In fact, truth be told, it was impossible, which is where the ‘holding station’ came in to play because we ended up with what resembled a meze of sides. There were too many to list, but the highlights were the sticky, sweet glazed chipolatas and the chorizo mac & cheese. Slightly disappointing were the bone marrow roasties and the triple cooked chips, both of which lacked the crunch that I was looking forward to.
No mistakes were made with the cooking of the steaks, both of which came precisely as ordered. The meat was flavoursome and soft, although would have benefitted from a sprinkling of cracked sea salt.
We didn’t make it through all of the sides, so I’d suggest that you try to be more decisive than we were in our shortlisting.
Despite the fact that we were both ready to pop, the dessert options were even more tempting than the sides. When we were told that it was a brand new set of desserts, we figured it would be rude not to order something.
This is where we come to my biggest issue with Alston.
I get that veganism is a growing cult, but when you have the word ‘beef’ in your restaurant name, that should exempt you from having to pander to their whims. I have a simple rule in restaurants – order the chocolatiest dessert on offer. This time it was chocolate tart with clementine and sugar snow (otherwise known as icing sugar). The problem is, it had a V+ next to it. Now, I was quick to substitute the vegan vanilla ice cream with REAL vanilla ice cream (the request was met with a knowing and sympathetic nod from the waitress), but sadly I couldn’t do anything about the fact that the tart’s pastry could really have done with a big lump of butter mixed in to it. The grenache however was delicious.
On the other side of the table was a sticky toffee pudding that I stared enviously at – and snuck a taste of. It was heavenly.
Perhaps the best bit of dessert though was the jug of custard in the middle of the table. I would have gladly filled a bath full of the stuff and dived straight in.
If the sign of a good meal is the length of time before you can face lying down in bed due to having over eaten, then Alston Bar & Beef did a good job. If they can consistently serve up perfectly cooked red meat, then it is a great safe space for avoiding the Greta Thunberg wannabes.