Meat is Murder, Morrissey’s prescient plant-based message, remains a strident soundtrack to veganism, in harmony now with the methane-blamers in the battle against global warming. And yet to yoke mass-produced, factory-farmed supermarket protein with enlightened sustainable animal husbandry yielding remarkable, healthy produce is a travesty.
Read my piece on the farming practices supplying Higher Ground, in the running to be Manchester’s restaurant standard bearer, then eat there to see what all the fuss is about. At the moment it is just acorn-fed free range pork (I hugely recommend the pig’s head terrine) on the menu. from Jane’s Farm in Cheshire but soon its grass-fed beef will feature too, not a scrap of the animal wasted. Higher Ground is sharing the first Dexter cross carcass with fellow newcomer Climat.
They are not alone in championing beef. These days few retired milkers can look forward to a long retirement, just a few years’ extra grazing to mature their flesh for the grill or pot. At the recent launch of Stock Market Grill – formerly Tom Kerridge’s Bull & Bear –in the Stock Exchange Hotel head chef Joshua Reed-Cooper served us ex-dairy Friesian rib eye steak (substantial, so £55).
Excellent as that rib-eye was, it was trumped at another hotel dining room I’d almost written off after the departure of exec head chef Iain Thomas,who had launched it to acclaim. His permanent replacement at The Alan is James Hulme, as meat savvy as any chef around. When he ran his own restaurant, The Moor, in Heaton Moor he struck up a working relationship with a farm near Buxton, he told us across the chef’s counter.
“I used to take three ewes at a time, drive them to the abattoir. I didn’t kill them myself but I think you should be able to kill stuff if you want to eat it. Many chefs, even at top places, have no idea which part of a cow different cuts come from.”
With such knowledge he embraces the farm to fork ethos, extracting the maximum use of a beast. It took half an hour to prepare our 800g of retired dairy cow, James’s sous chef treating it first to a dose of searing flames. In all its final crimson glory it’s a wonderful mouthful with enough left over for three days of doggie bags for Captain Smidge the chihuahua. £85 the cost, but there’s ample and beyond.
Our little dog was never going to be brought back any of the Pomme Anna style confit beef fat chips – glistening gold slabs of carb crisped in fat from the animal’s beef cap, which also fuels the best beef tartare in the city, lubricated by whipped bone marrow. It’s made distinctive by chopped gherkins and cured egg yolk plus breadcrumbs toasted with beef fat. What else?
The vegan option is never paramount with this chef who honed his talents working for Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Marco Pierre White, Tom Aikens and our own Aiden Byrne when launching 20 Stories. Still his plant-based offering is better than most. We enjoyed poached and roasted salsify with apple and red wine but, seasonality decreed that was about to depart the menu, its replacement another off the mainstream radar veg, kohlrabi. And, of course, with that fine dining cv, he can’t resist undermining any vegan potential with a dash of life-enhancing butter. Grilled hen of the woods with ancient grains and whey butter is definitely a dish de nos jours.
But easily our favourite among the small plates was again meat-led. My favourite lamb breast dish is the classic French version, Sainte-Menehould. Slow-braised, then strips of it baked with a mustard and breadcrumb coating. This is simpler, the product of pressing with the addition of that most un-Gallic of tracklements – kimchi. The most delicate of kimchis turned into a ketchup.
There’s an improved wine list arriving at The Alan and we suspect this chef will not hesitate to up his menu game, too. For the moment it’s good to see one of the city’s coolest venues consolidating its immediate impact despite big changes.
So many Manchester homages to exposed brick are just plain grubby but this wide open space of muted pastels and cute design quirks really sings. With food to match from James Hulme. Grab a seat at the counter and watch an unsung master at work.
The Alan, 18 Princess Street, Manchester M1 4LG. 01612368999.