The Bridge (Febuary 2004)
The Bridge, an exciting new addition to the Manchester restaurant scene, used to be the Bridge Street Tavern. It was a cheap and cheerful sort of place where you could get food along the lines of chips, a Cumberland sausage butty, and baked potato with chilli con carne to accompany your lunchtime pint. What a change.
Acclaimed chef Robert Owen Brown, formerly of upmarket Lounge 10 and prior to that the late lamented Brasserie St Pierre, is going for gold and has bought what was in truth a pretty tatty hostelry and turned it into a gastropub of the highest quality. 'Gastro' hints at pretension but Robert, a local lad who lives in north Manchester, is anything but precious. A dedicated foodie, he travels the length and breadth of the country in search of high-class produce and cuisine. He even travels up to the West of Scotland to source the wonderful seafood which is the lynchpin of a menu which every lunchtime is drawing in the lawyers and business people who work nearby. In the evenings, custom is also building nicely. And no wonder.
Robert has sensibly opted for hearty cuisine at The Bridge which goes best with the gastropub style so there is a different soup every day and typical starters include grilled goats cheese dripping with flavour and pates made on the premises. Regular starters also include oysters (six plump little beasts in their shells) and rare treasures like lobster and scallops. Main courses stay in the homely mode - there are lamb shanks with rosemary and garlic, freshly sourced plaice with spinach and baby vegetables, and rib-eye steaks with chips and a variety of vegetables. Flagship specials include pot-roast pigeon with wild mushrooms and pan-fried seabass with sweet chilli and roast peppers. Puds also veer towards the comfort theme with ginger sponge and homemade custard, and poached pears in mulled wine, vying with a fab selection of artisan British cheeses (which come with a plentiful array of biscuits and grapes) for the afters accolade. Decent house wine is about £10 a bottle and 'the works' (ie three courses with a bottle of the same) will set you back a very reasonable £25-£30 a head. If you don't want a full meal, there are also snacks available.
Décor-wise the pub has been refurbished sympathetically so that it retains its cosy feel -- lots of reds and blacks, and a welcoming atmosphere. Period features like the stained glass windows at the entrance, hitherto hidden for several decades by ugly plasterboard, have been exposed to a new generation. The building is over 200 years old and expect more restoration work as Robert makes his mark. Meanwhile the look is very individual and happily devoid of the corporate slickness which renders many otherwise decent Manchester eateries pretty soul-less places to be. A bright future beckons for The Bridge.
58 Bridge Street
Tel: 0161 8340242
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