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
‘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