Such an old chestnut that one about ‘policemen are getting younger’. Stats say different and anyway the phrase is a reflection of our own mortality creeping up on us. Chefs, now that’s another matter. Especially when they’ve been fast-tracked by a shrewd mentor. Step forward Tom Kerridge and Connor Black. The first is a ubiquitous figure across the English food and drink scene, his latest telegenic showcase judging on the revamped Great British Menu; the second, a 25-year-old who first entered the Kerridge orbit aged just 15, has just made the leap forward to Head Chef at The Bull & Bear, in Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel.
What immediately appeals on dipping into Connor’ debut menu is the sense that he is very much his own man. From the start, in the summer of 2019, the northern outpost of the Kerridge has borne the big man’s stamp. Less the standard of food (at a price) that brought him two Michelin stars at The Hand and Flowers in Marlow; more the accomplished pub food you’ll find at his second operation in that town, The Coach.
Connor worked his way up to be sous-chef at The Hand before becoming Head Chef of The Shed, that posh pub’s intimate 10-cover private dining room. His meteoric rise stated much earlier. At 13 he was working part-time in kitchens on the Isle of Wight; at 15 he arrived at the Hand and Flowers for work experience and stayed; two years later he was named Hospitality Guild Apprentice of the Year. All the while contributing to menu development. A spell away working on the continent contributed to his development.
So what does all this bring to the plate in Manchester? A smaller menu, like so many places post-pandemic, yes, but the dishes are noticeably less hearty, though following the Kerridge “refined pub grub” template.
Definitely a good thing in these eyes as I accept starter advice and sample Roasted Hand Dived Orkney Scallop with Pickled Crown Prince Pumpkin and Smoked Butter Sauce (£24.50) It’s exquisite. Only 60 of these very superior scallops are delivered each week and the storms have stymied even that until, luckily the day of my lunch. A ‘table snack’ of Cheddar Cheese Scones with Marmite Butter is less successful. Dry scones and I’d forgotten how Marmite Marmite is.
A pre-opening journo jolly to Marlow showed me how seriously the Kerridge team sources. Witness this again with my main Dry Aged Udale Duck Breast off the rotisserie with Caramelised Endive, Rhubarb and Garlic Sausage ‘Cassoulet’ (£34). Up to 40 days in Udale’s Himalayan Salt Ageing Chamber intensifies the flavour of an already benchmark Creedy Carver duck. But the dish is enhanced by the subtle bittersweet/sharp flavours Connor brings to the accompaniments.
Belly of Blythburgh Pork with Marmite Glazed Hasselback Artichoke, Smoked Hazelnuts and Pear Ketchup (£34) and Roast Cornish Cod with Sweet Garlic Puree, Lemon Braised Leeks, Shiitake and Mushroom Consommé (£33.50) also take the eye.
Rhubarb, bang in season, reappears in my retro trifle. All the puddings are £11.50, ranging from Warm Baked Eccles Cake with Lancashire Black Bomb Cheese to a Peanut Butter Crème Brûlée with Raspberry Jelly and Banana Yoghurt Sorbet.
The trading floor of the Grade II listed former Stock Exchange, is as imposing as ever, the large open kitchen built to cater for a substantial number of covers. Meshed into the revamped B&B regime is a new Head of Food and Beverage, Matthew Griffin, who has previously worked under Jason Atherton. And Group Exec Chef the vastly experienced Warren Geraghty is regularly up from London. As a potential safety net? Will any of this phase young Connor? I doubt it.
The Bull & Bear, Stock Exchange Hotel, 4 Norfolk St, Manchester M2 1DW. 0161 470 902.