With temperatures over the past month far milder than they should be it’s easy to forget the time of year, and difficult to gauge how best to feel. On one hand, only hermits will have missed Europe-wide panic at the projected cost of keeping warm this winter, so an extra month without central heating is helpful. Flip that perspective, though, and 20C days on Halloween weekend are a sign of the spiraling climate crisis and not so cheery food for thought as COP27 opens in Egypt this week.
Despite the prolonged respite from freezing conditions Manchester is now bracing itself for freezing conditions to come, and that preparation is more than visible in the city’s restaurants. Not least at one of our favourite post-industrial spots, Ducie Street Warehouse, where a new menu embraces seasonality and emphasises local produce to offer a multitude of heart-warming options ideal for the coming months.
Arriving early evening, our corner booth is already surrounded by groups putting ‘social dining’ as a concept to the test, diving mouth-first into a selection of small plates made for sharing. A reassuring sign, not least mid-week during an emerging financial crisis when purse strings are rapidly being tightened, keeping up with tradition we opt to sample new wintry additions to the cocktail menu first.
Perry’s Rum Cup, as you’d hope, is served via glass cup complete with handle, in which spiced Bacardi, pineapple juice, lemon, apple caramel syrup and Sheppy’s Cider combine for a flavour both fresh and deep, fiery, and revitalising, ingredients well-balanced so it’s neither too sweet nor tart. Goldilocks would be proud. In comparison, On the Moors is a more complex affair, lavender, Bombay Press, Luxardo Maraschino, violet and egg white creating a zesty tang to counterbalance fragrant floral notes which invoke images of wandering across hillsides cast in the dark green and rich purple hues of heather.
Like the updated drinks selection, the refreshed food also offers impressive originals. We start with the Honey & Walnut Burrata with Friarielli, Spiced Butternut Squash and Truffle, which also has one foot in the freezer and another enjoying the last rays of real sunshine. Bitter Italian leaves offset powerful sugary tastes dominating the dish, which is served cool, ensuring the cheese at the centre of it all is surprisingly refreshing, and lightening what could otherwise have been a heavy-duty combination. Meanwhile, the fungi element is equally well measured – it stops short of overpowering yet still makes itself well known.
Charred Hispi Cabbage with Shallot & Caper Salsa arrives next. The blackened veg certainly punches, smoked flavours balancing the acetic without dulling, green centrepiece prepped to perfection and served somewhere between well-oiled and crispy. The result is a surprisingly varied texture that seems to change depending on mouthful, dish ranking high for scrape-the-plate-clean potential.
Few things scream heartwarming more than bangers and mash, not least when you opt for a luxurious take on the British classic. In this case it’s a Local Game, Red Wine, and Herb Sausage (produced by much lauded Bury specialist, Grandad’s) with Caramelised Sweet Potato doused in a rich onion gravy. Akin to a Cumberland ring, it’s a welcome dose of the domestic among a pan-European (Italian-leaning) feast and is surprisingly dense considering the small dish, with a highly concentrated jus-like sauce doing no disservice.
Although a standard choice to accompany would be a full-bodied red (Ducie Street’s current wine list offers an excellent Shiraz and very solid Malbec), we instead punt for a less robust piquant by way of crimson Carménère from Chile, a country famous for the variety, which is known for milder tannins but still able to stand up to strong seasoning when called upon. Notably, the vineyard, Wildmakers, practices biodynamic production, which, while not as hangover-proof as natural vino, basically means organic methods were used to cultivate and bottle — ideal for those looking to do away with pesticide processes.
By now the temptation to loosen our belt is overwhelming, nevertheless it’s impossible not to fall for (what, in our opinion, is) the standout dessert option – Gingerbread Sticky Toffee Pudding with Cheshire Farm ice cream. Another classic, to say the least, this finale certainly has the potential to finish anyone off, but we are the ones who walk away with the last laugh. Combining cool vanilla with creamy butterscotch, it’s the ideal way to end what can only be described as a meal fit for our times.