CITYLIFELOCAL KEEP­ING IT SIM­PLE WITH SEAFOOD ON THE GRILL

THE OYSTERCATCHER IN CHORLTON HITS THE MARK WITH CHAR­COAL COOKED FISH AND STYLISH DECOR, WRITES ANDY CRONSHAW

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‘KEEP­ING things sim­ple’ was key to the vi­sion be­hind The Oystercatcher in Chorlton, says co-owner and chef Dun­can Ran­yard.

But when it comes to fish, sim­plic­ity isn’t al­ways what’s achieved by cooks des­per­ate to gild the lily.

That’s why the bril­liance of this mod­est lit­tle bistro re­volves around its char­coal grill.

For­get ‘pan-fried’, this place is all about seafood marked by the black im­print of bars above glow­ing coals, the crispi­ness of fish skin, the primeval taste of food cooked with fire.

Dun­can, for­merly of Hispi, and business part­ner Re­cep Can­li­isik, from the Lead Sta­tion, have been pi­lot­ing a new char­coal grill from Esse.

They ad­mit there was a learn­ing curve to mas­ter­ing it; at full blast it gen­er­ates as much heat as a pizza oven.

But master it they did, open­ing the place dur­ing a sum­mer when bar­be­cues were fir­ing in ev­ery gar­den and right in the mid­dle of Eng­land’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing World Cup run.

The waft­ing aroma of fish skin crack­ling over coals never smelled bet­ter and the place was an in­stant hit.

“It wasn’t like be­ing in Manch­ester. I think peo­ple com­ing in felt like they were on their hol­i­days,” says Dun­can.

Hol­i­days then per­haps like the one I took to Cat­alo­nia in Au­gust where, in coastal towns like Cam­brils, there are shoals of restau­rants whose main­stay is fish.

And it’s from those places where seafood is pulled from the sea and thrown on the grill al­most in one move­ment that the Oystercatcher takes its cue.

Catch of the sea­son char­grilled sar­dines (£7 for three) are very pop­u­lar the Sun­day we turn up. The oily, sweet flesh needs but a slight nudge to re­lease from the bones. The only ac­com­pa­ni­ment is a but­tery saf­fron and gar­lic may­on­naise dec­o­rated by a drop of pars­ley oil.

Four wild tiger prawns (£9) get the same treat­ment but are lath­ered in gar­lic spiked but­ter and sit over toast made with bread from the nearby Bar­bakan Bak­ery. Sim­ple, in­spired, and fin­ger-lickin good. Oys­ters, of course, also fea­ture on the menu, served naked or with the op­tion of a shal­lot vine­gar (three for £8).

Mains are di­vided be­tween grill and non-grill; only the roast tur­bot with sea­weed but­ter and pomme anna (£23) dis­play­ing any ten­den­cies to­ward fine and fid­dly.

The main char­coal menu is res­o­lutely straight­for­ward with the sea bream, so of­ten un­justly rel­e­gated be­low sea bass, and the squid be­ing our choices.

The bream comes dressed by a lemon quar­ter and a lus­trous salsa verde of mint, basil, pars­ley, ca­pers and olive oil. Noth­ing else is needed, so noth­ing else is pre­sented.

The squid is cut and rolled into tubes be­fore grilling; its tex­ture ●● sug­gests the cook­ing time has been honed to the sec­ond.

Dol­lops of romesco sauce part­ner the squid, but de­spite some other rave re­views I find it’s a lit­tle too thick and pasty, lack­ing the punch of the stuff that was served up reg­u­larly when I dined in its home­land of Tar­rag­ona dur­ing the sum­mer.

The house wine, a del­i­cate but aro­matic white from Gali­cia, Cara­muxo Latido Marino (£17), is a dis­creet guest pro­vid­ing crisp acid­ity for the food but never over­step­ping the line.

Sides play splen­did cameos and a very lightly dressed her­itage tomato salad (£4) al­most takes a lead role while char­grilled sweet­corn on the cob (£3) is just ir­re­sistible.

Hav­ing avoided those naughty sat­u­rated fats and carb over­loads, the dessert menu is not to be tossed to one side.

An ex­cel­lent dis­sem­bled af­fogato is served with frangelico (£6) while a rasp­berry crème brulee (£6) is ex­em­plary tex­ture-wise, cut by the zip­pi­ness of the fruit and cud­dled by the soft wel­com­ing cus­tard.

Dé­cor is, like the food, sim­ple and stylish, wooden floor and ta­bles, comfy booths while hang­ing lamps make sure you can see your fish in all its glory. ●● ●● ●●

The Oystercatcher in Chorlton

Sea Bream with salsa verde

Char­grilled sar­dines with gar­lic and saf­fron mayo

Oys­ters with shal­lot vine­gar

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