By Elena Gibbs
Accompanying fellow food writer Hester Lonergan on her route to uni, we passed by the beginnings of the now open and operating Urban Cookhouse. Intrigued by the artsy logo and stylish purple lettering, we made reservations for an early lunch accompanied by cocktails.
Hester arrived slightly before me and made the first move with a nibble of popcorn, though I had to ask what flavour it claimed to be as it tasted of nothing. Unperturbed by this bland appetiser, we moved to decide on our samples of the real food.
The menu at Cookhouse is refreshingly different, a fusion of cuisines are presented to make a beautiful, intriguing and innovative collection. Too excited to choose one thing, and too scared of not having room to try it all, we opted for a tapas-style collection of starters. Our choices in agreement, we went for the crispy whitebait in lemongrass aioli, tempura cod cheeks, scallops and black pudding, harissa duck breast and the mushroom parfait on rye.
Everything was presented beautifully, and delivered in ample time as we sipped our celebrator “it’s Easter” cocktails. Mine the Florasion Invasion, a cool and fresh balance of gin, chartreuse and bitters finished with a sprig of rosemary. After discovering the infusion of this herb into cocktails on my 21st at the Chester Grosvenor, there was no doubt about my preference for this glass. In exchange for the tempting signature Negroni, my companion opted for the Mezcal Mess Gal, a fitting swap due to its content of sweet vermouth, mezcal and Campari. This came with the option of pickled worms, clearly an option for the thrill seeking adrenaline junkies, which evidently I must not be (or maybe I just don’t want to eat a worm). Hester took the challenge and experienced the thrill of the slimy worm popping in her mouth while I happily twiddled my sprig of rosemary. We both agreed on the taste of the drinks: not too sweet, not too potent, a perfect mix of flavour.
Unsure where to start with our stunning array of food, we continued in Spanish style by having a little of everything on one plate. The whitebait was piled generously on a wooden board and delivered the perfect crunch when dipped in the aioli, though I personally prefer this to be a little more garlicky. The cod cheeks manifested yet another generous serving, with five little battered fish pieces on a bed of Asian slaw. This was one of my favourites; the chilli and lime jam an interesting change from what would commonly be sweet and sour sauce. As a disliker of black pudding, I relied on my companion’s judgement to approve that the scallop dish was excellent and cooked to perfection, ‘like velvet’. We agreed that the harissa duck tasted like steak – albeit very good steak, it was a way of duck that I have not had before and am used to associations of sweet Asian flavours rather than the earthy chilli-pepper taste of harissa. The mushroom parfait was delicious, essentially mushroom pate delivered in a small (but more than sufficient) clip top jar with pear chutney and soft grilled rye bread.Scallops & Black Pudding Soil. Photo: Ellie Gibbs Crispy Cod Cheeks. Photo: Ellie Gibbs Photo: Ellie Gibbs
Our 2nd round of cocktails was slightly disappointing: we ordered the first two from the signature menu, which was essentially prosecco with cordial – there wasn’t much distinction between the tarragon & pear and the elderflower & lime. I’d rather drink it straight up and classic in a flute than fuss with the sweeteners. However, our final round more than made up for this marginal flaw, with espresso martinis that were dark, deep, earthy and delicious. The perfect light dessert.
The staff were eager and responsive to our cocktail-induced enthusiasm for asking questions, and offered an informed response to all of our queries, as well as being consistent with the timing of each course. There were a lot more things on the menu that I’d definitely come back and try, with a variation suitable for any time and any company. Though definitely placed in the expensive bracket, Urban Cookhouse is honestly priced and the cost is reflected in their stunning presentation, attention to detail and fluently attentive service.
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0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR