An image of the humble vol-au-vent dropped into my inbox today and I almost swooned, giving it some retro love. Surprisingly the dinky, filled puff pastry didn’t make it onto the buffet of Abigail’s Party, nor did it feature in Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s 1997 retro recipe homage, The Prawn Cocktail Years.
Naff image, though? Yes. Yet it has never really gone away as a buffet stalwart despite often languishing in the unfashionable tray. Certainly no one’s going to blame you for buying in a batch of ready-made bases to stuff with chicken, ham or mushrooms in a creamy sauce. One big plus – unlike the prawn cocktail, it’s resistant to ‘deconstruction’.
Variations, savoury and sweet, have been myriad ever since the dish’s invention in early 1800s Paris, credited to the great Antonin Carême. Originally a larger pie, the smaller cocktail party version we now know as a vol-au vent was then called a bouchée.
A testimony to its lightness, the name translates as ‘windblown’. Mrs Beeton (1861) offers us her strawberry version; we’re in naffer territory with Constance Spry (1956), her curry powder and boiled egg filling constituting vol-au-vent à l’indienne.
I expect much better from Climat when it opens in Manchester on Monday, December 5 on the eighth floor of Bruntwood’s Blackfriars House. Suppliers of this morning’s succulent j-peg, this rooftop restaurant/wine mecca is trumpeting the vol-au-vent as its signature snack. Following in the footsteps of the gougère, which serves in the same capacity at the team’s original base in Chester, Covino. That savoury carb, flavoured with Comte cheese, is made from choux pastry like its sweet cousin, the profiterole (which is in The Prawn Cocktail Years).
Luke Richardson, exec chef of Covino and Climat, tells me: “We want to have a different signature snack at each restaurant we open. The gougère will continue to serve Covino, while we’ve opted to resurrect the vol-au-vent for Climat, owing to their complete versatility throughout the seasons. They can literally be stuffed with anything. Beef tartare, parfait, truffle and ricotta, to name just a few.
“Both myself and Simon Ulph (Climat head chef) have worked closely together to develop an opening menu we are both super proud of and we think does justice to the building and the surroundings. We believe we offer something completely different to the Manchester restaurant scene.”
I can vouch for the quality of food and wine at Michelin-rated Covino. Check out my report on a September visit. The setting there is cosy bistro; Climat is an altogether different beast – major selling points being the ninth floor panoramic view across Manchester city centre and a 250-strong wine list that itself stretches across the horizon. A substantial chunk of these will be Burgundies, a passion of Climat owner Christopher Laidler. Magnifique, I say. Equally promising is the regularly changing ‘modern’ menu with influences from across the world, described by chef Luke describes as ‘Parisian expat food’.
Feasting sized dishes aimed at tables of three or more to share will be a prominent feature in the 100-cover restaurant. Think whole turbot, slow cooked lamb shoulder or ex-dairy cuts on-the-bone. Alongside, Climat will follow the Covino small plates formula. Besides the vol au vents, the snack menu could include fresh malted loaves, seasonal oysters and charcuterie to match that comprehensive wine list.
So what’s on that wine list? Asking for a friend…
The name ‘Climat’ derives from the term used to describe a single vineyard site in Burgundy, which has its own microclimate and specific geological conditions. It’s the region that 40 per cent of the wine list will be allocated to. From some of the world’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, to the region’s lesser-known varieties and appellations. Who’s for a cheeky Mercurey, Montagny or St Aubin? From elsewhere expect to find at least 15 different grower’s Champagnes and the exciting wines of Jura.
Climat, Blackfriars House, St Marys Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA. The restaurant will be open Monday, 5pm-1pm; Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-3pm, with snacks available -in-between before the kitchen reopens 5pm-11pm. Sundays the kitchen will be open 12pm-8pm, with the bar remaining open until 10pm. To book visit this link. Soft launches will also take place on December 2, 3 or 4, where guests will receive 25 per cent off their food bill.