Glossop Advertiser - - City Life Local -

AS restau­rant open­ings go, 1761 didn’t get off to the most aus­pi­cious start. Ill-judged plans to fill a fish­tank with stingrays in its base­ment Bollinger bar, Lily’s, pro­voked a back­lash from animal lovers who branded it a ‘cruel gim­mick’, forc­ing own­ers to aban­don the idea.

It’s not the only thing about the os­ten­ta­tious £1m fit-out of the for­mer Avalanche unit, near the town hall, that feels mis­guided.

Blingy chan­de­liers, gaudy flock wall­pa­per and heavy, draped red cur­tains sit com­pletely at odds with the sim­ple but su­perb cook­ery com­ing out of the kitchen.

Sup­pos­edly in­spired by Manch­ester’s in­dus­trial past - 1761 is the year the Bridge­wa­ter Canal was com­pleted - there are the usual, grating cul­tural nods, too.

The doorhan­dles are gi­ant bees and there are cock­tails with cringey names like Ha­cienda, Our Kid and The Bee­keeper (with honey in, nat­u­rally).

There’s no such fuss or frip­pery when it comes to the food, thank­fully. Head chef Oliver Walker’s mod­ern Bri­tish menu is es­sen­tially good, hon­est pub grub, ex­e­cuted fault­lessly.

A salt cod Scotch egg starter (£7.50) bor­rows clev­erly from Span­ish cro­que­tas, with a crisp crumb and fluffy ba­calao and po­tato fill­ing cling­ing around jammy-yolked eggs.

For £6, the ter­rine could eas­ily feed one for lunch. The tightly-packed puck of shred­ded ham hock comes with three gen­er­ous chunks of sour­dough, sweet onion chut­ney and rocket to send it on its way. A pile of ba­con salt lends it all some smoky oomph.

Mains are rea­son­ably priced, mostly around £12 to £13. At the top end of the scale, the spring lamb rump is worth ev­ery penny of its £19.50 price tag, seared, sea­soned and rested to per­fec­tion, with a sharp chorizo, but­ter­bean and tomato stew slic­ing through the rich­ness.

Braised pork belly (£16) comes in a size­able slab of melt­ing meat and slowly ren­dered down fat, crowned with a crack­ling puff and a crispy black pud­ding bon bon. A sweet cider jus and sliv­ers of cele­riac bal­ance the big, bold flavours.

The meat in both dishes is top drawer and treated with re­spect by a chef who clearly cares.

Desserts more than match up. A rhubarb and ap­ple crum­ble (£6.50) is el­e­gantly pre­sented in a stack of stewed fruit with a vivid swirl of pink. A pool of gin­ger cus­tard adds a whis­per of warmth, but it needs more oaty top­ping.

The Manch­ester tart (£6.50) is out­stand­ing, a play­ful take on the clas­sic bake, with a fruity Vimto jam and ba­nana cus­tard topped with toasted co­conut in a snappy short­crust pas­try.

It’s the sort of food you’d be thrilled to find in a cosy coun­try pub, or a smart city cen­tre brasserie. The glitz and faux grandeur of this set­ting does it a dis­ser­vice.

1761 needs to shake off the con­fu­sion of what it ac­tu­ally is.

Is it a £1m cham­pagne bar or is it a solid Bri­tish restau­rant? Is it go­ing up against San Carlo or Sam’s Chop­house?

Too much of it feels like an as­sumed ver­sion of what Manch­ester wants, from an op­er­a­tor who hasn’t dealt here be­fore. Owner Phil Healey may have grown up in Belle Vue, but his cur­rent stomp­ing ground of Glossop, where he runs the Vic­to­ria Lounge, is very dif­fer­ent ter­ri­tory.

The heav­ily ap­plied Manch­ester iden­tity seems to act as a cover for a venue with lit­tle sense of self. Who wants a Ha­cienda when you can just have a killer Old Fash­ioned?

Hope­fully, 1761 will find its place – and its au­di­ence – but at the minute it just shoots in too many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

What the city needs now are restau­rants that will de­fine its fu­ture rather than con­stantly hark back to the past.

At the heart of it all, though, is some truly ex­cel­lent cook­ing. Good enough to give the Bollinger the back seat. Emily Heward

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