Named after a small, recessed cupboard in which medieval Lords and Abbots kept precious items; Aumbry in Prestwich, Manchester, really lives up to its namesake and can safely be called the jewel in Manchester’s dining scene.
Tucked around a corner of Prestwich’s slowly crumbling high street, Aumbry’s dinky dining space is a stark contrast to its external setting – the decor is understated, but high quality and as thought through as each mouthful of each plate – light colours, barely patterned papers, crisp linen and quirky highlights like the patterned boot-sale side plates. It’s an intimate space with a familial feel; but a professional, well-bred family rather than the colourful chaos of many other small, neighbourhood eateries.
Skimming the menu you immediately spot the bald headed molecular chef, Mary Ellen (chef/patron and one half of Aumbry’s husband and wife culinary team), has worked under; there’s the odd molecular flourishes in the menu, influences from their 14th century name and modern techniques like sous vide. Unlike Heston’s fare, this food is real, edible and understated – but packs a mean punch all the same (and for far less money).
Being skint, we’d chosen the Tuesday night special – five course tasting menu for £25 – this meant we could try a selection of the dishes without being too out of pocket (the usual tasting menu is a reasonable £65 for 9 courses). What we didn’t realise is that for the price you also get given a snackette, bread course and petit fours with coffee thrown in too: good value for money, even if the portion sizes match Aumbry’s diminutive dining space.
To whet the appetite we were given home-made crisps; crunchy, salty and with a sharp slap of vinegar as well as light as a button smoked cheddar gougeres – if the business fails (which it won’t) Mary Ellen and Laurence certainly have a promising future in the luxury snack market. This was followed by the bread – chewy, home baked sourdough (why does mine never turn out as good as that?) served with some light as air butters (one a lovely nutty version) and a pot of dripping. Yep, that good old fashioned artery clogger, making a fashionable reappearance. Dripping, I have concluded, is not something to be snobby or health conscious about – it’s divine; deep savoury beefyness coating the mouth and soothing the soul – we were terribly cheeky and asked for more.
Out followed a succession of courses – each lilliputian portion brilliantly engineered to be big, but subtle with the flavours. Each dish a clever assimilation of perfectly matching and contrasting elements – all must have been worked and re-worked painstakingly to develop that level of balance. The kitchen may be small, but there’s plenty of skill squeezed in there.
A wild garlic (ramson) soup with truffle was sweet, heady and earthy – those truffles adding a supportive ground note to the dish so it wasn’t all overly heady garlic and cream. It’s funny how such a heavy ingredient could actually lighten a dish.
We were slightly torn with the pressed hare terrine wrapped in Cumbrian air dried ham – a silky soft, melt in the mouth dish; however hares are in decline and we were perturbed about the sustainability/morality of the ingredient when eating this dish – (Aumbry holds many Sustainable Restaurant Awards) (oh, and we still ate the dish, our morals only stretch so far).
A dish of home smoked mackerel was just clothed in the sweetest of smokes and dashed through by the ultra red sour grenadine poached rhubarb and the fiery acidity of a mustard cream. Then the main attraction – slow cooked pork; served with part of the loin and part of the shoulder, this had obviously spent it’s life as a very happy pig. Superb quality, supported by pitch perfect cooking and, again perfectly picked apple to accompany and cut through the salty, sweet meat.
Here was an interlude; we were offered the cheese course for an additional £7 (usually £10) – a wander through speciality cheeses of Britain and Ireland, arranged in taste order; youngest and lightest first, all the way through to some uber salty, punch you in the face blue at the end. Each pair of cheeses (there were three pairs) had been paired with an accompanying chutney and biscuits made in house; as our helpful waiter told us when we asked (and we asked about everything).
Out came pudding, a dish that really split the waters between myself and t’boy; grapefruit posset with celery granita and grapefruit sherbet. I loved the intense sourness of the sherbet, the creamy delicateness of the posset and the unusual, refreshing granita on top; in my mind it totally worked. T’boy however felt that it was a let down of a pudding and refused to even touch the granita after the first bite. I would say the pudding was the least strong course, but I usually find that – the only place I’ve seen puddings match the mains is Nutters in Rochdale.
Throughout the meal the very small FOH team were superb – they looked after us brilliantly, were incredibly knowledgeable, didn’t mind me asking a million questions and kept the supply of bread constant. They’re also pretty genned up on the wine they serve – in fact you can have tasting menu of wines to match each dish, but we were pushing our budget just by being out, so we declined. Instead the staff chose two excellent glasses that would compliment the courses we were having and gave us a complete run down of what we were drinking (to read more out Aumbry’s food and wine matching click here).
I’m not going to deny that the portion sizes at Aumbry are as miniature as their restaurant and I know that’s been a criticism from some corners; however this was a tasting menu so I knew each plate would be small. When you take in to account the snacks, unlimited bread, cheese (extra) and petit fours; well, I had to undo the button on my trousers when driving home, so there was no issue with portion sizes for me. Maybe if you are a massive man you’d have an issue, but sometimes isn’t it better to go for quality over quantity?
Aumbry definitely is the jewel in Manchester’s eating crown and the best food I’ve had in the area. Get in quick as I’m sure a raft of prestigious awards will be thrown their way in the next few years (not sure why they haven’t got one yet to be honest).
Ps If you’re early for dinner, or fancy a night cap – pop to the pub at the bottom of the road called The Church. Lovely, low beamed affair with some alright whiskies and some cracking ale.
Pps – not only do they have the best food and service, they have the best toilet too!
Price for two Tuesday tasting menus, two glasses of wine, cheese and a port – £74 (or there abouts)
Food – 9/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Service – 10/10
Value for money – 9/10 (I think £25 for five courses and extras is pretty good)
Total – 37/40
Go again? Yes. I’d like to go back for the full tasting menu, but until I can afford that I think it’s another Tuesday night cheapo for me!
Please forgive the lack of photos, with such an intimate dining room and as I was enjoying myself so much, I felt it would be rude and obtrusive to take loads.